Chlamydia and gonorrhea are sexually transmitted bacterial infections that share symptoms, including painful urination and genital discharge. However, they are the result of different bacteria overgrowths.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are both extremely common.

In 2018, chlamydia had a rate of 539.9 cases per 100,000 people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Gonorrhea had a rate of 179 cases per 100,000 people.

This article will look at how a person can tell the difference between chlamydia and gonorrhea, and what they can do if they notice any symptoms.

a woman sat on her bed and wondering if her encounter last night led to either chlamydia and gonorrheaShare on Pinterest
Many instances of gonorrhea are symptomless.

According to the CDC, some males, and most females, with gonorrhea may not experience any symptoms at all.

The same goes for chlamydia. If a person does experience symptoms, they might not appear for several weeks.

As the symptoms can be similar and may overlap, it is important for a doctor to test for the infections before prescribing any treatment.

Overlapping symptoms

The overlapping symptoms may differ slightly between females and males.

For example, females may experience a burning sensation during urination and abnormal or increased discharge from the vagina.

Males may experience:

  • a burning sensation during urination
  • discharge from the penis
  • painful swelling of the testicles and penis, though this is less common

A person may also experience symptoms in the rectum. Symptoms in the rectum may include:

  • pain or soreness
  • discharge
  • bleeding

A person can also experience chlamydia and gonorrhea in the throat. Most oral infections of this nature will have no symptoms, but a person may experience a sore throat.

Symptoms specific to gonorrhea

If a female has gonorrhea, they may experience vaginal bleeding between periods.

For males, both chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause penile discharge. If gonorrhea is the cause, the discharge may be yellow, green, or white.

If a person experiences gonorrhea in the rectum, they may experience anal itching and painful bowel movements.

According to the CDC, there are three steps a person should take after receiving a diagnosis of one of these infections:

  1. Get treatment: Without treatment, the infection may cause complications.
  2. Tell any previous or current sexual partners: They will require testing and may need treatment. This might be an uncomfortable conversation, but it is critical in helping stop the spread and for the health of both partners. A person can talk with a doctor about the best way to handle the conversation, and they might be able to provide strategies or tools that can help.
  3. Get retested: After 3–4 months, a person should get retested to ensure that the infection is completely gone from their system.

A person can meet with a doctor to get a diagnosis for either of these infections.

The doctor will collect bodily fluids to test for the infection. The test can use either a urine sample or a sample from the vagina or penis, which a doctor will collect with a cotton swab.

Most health insurance plans, including Medicare, cover sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing completely. If a person does not have health insurance, they can go to a free clinic, their local health department’s STI clinic, a student health center, or an urgent care clinic.

Because both chlamydia and gonorrhea can present with no symptoms, it is important that people who are sexually active get tested regularly.

After a doctor has determined which infection a person has contracted, they will prescribe an antibiotic.

People should take the full course of antibiotics and wait an additional 7 days before having sex again. This helps prevent a person from spreading the infection to another person and possibly reinfecting themselves later.

A person can contract both chlamydia and gonorrhea again, even if they have already experienced and treated the STI before.

Treatment for chlamydia

In 2006, the American Academy of Family Physicians recommended the antibiotics azithromycin or doxycycline to treat chlamydia.

A person may only require one dose, or they may have to take the antibiotic every day for 7 days.

Treatment for gonorrhea

The CDC recommend a single injection of ceftriaxone. The CDC previously recommended ceftriaxone plus azithromycin, but the guidelines were changed because the bacteria causing gonorrhea are becoming increasingly resistant to azithromycin.

Antibiotic resistant gonorrhea has become more common, so it is important that people take the entire treatment course.

Any person who is sexually active has a risk of STIs. A person can transmit or contract STIs through oral, anal, or vaginal sexual intercourse.

To prevent contracting either of these infections, a person should use barrier methods, such as condoms, and get tested regularly.

Even when they do not cause any symptoms, these infections can cause complications.

If a person does not seek treatment for gonorrhea, for example, there may be a higher chance of contracting HIV. They may also contract disseminated gonococcal infections.

In females

Without treatment, either infection may cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID occurs when either infection migrates into a female’s reproductive organs.

Symptoms may include:

  • lower abdominal pain
  • unusual discharge from the vagina
  • bleeding during sexual intercourse
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • bleeding between periods

If a person does not seek treatment for PID early enough, complications may occur, including:

  • infertility
  • scar tissue forming in the fallopian tubes, which may cause tubal blockage
  • ectopic pregnancies

In males

In some rare cases, chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause a male to become infertile, if the infection reaches and scars the tubes descending from the testicles.

Women should inform a doctor if they have chlamydia or gonorrhea while pregnant. They may pass the STI to the newborn during delivery.

If a pregnant person does not receive treatment for gonorrhea, they may experience:

  • pregnancy loss
  • premature birth
  • low birth weight
  • chorioamnionitis, which is an infection of the fetal membranes

It can also cause eye infections in newborns.

Untreated chlamydia during pregnancy can cause:

  • preterm labor
  • low birth weight
  • premature rupture of the amniotic sac before labor begins

Untreated chlamydia can also cause eye and lung infections in newborns.

A person should see a doctor if they experience any symptoms of chlamydia or gonorrhea. However, as both infections may not show any symptoms, a person should get regular STI checks.

The CDC recommend that a person get tested yearly. Also, anyone who tests positive for one STI should get tested for others.

A person can contract chlamydia or gonorrhea as a result of unprotected sexual contact. Both are treatable using antibiotics.

Because there may be no symptoms at all, it is important to undergo regular STI checks and communicate the results with any sexual partners.

To prevent the spread of STIs, if a person suspects that they have either chlamydia or gonorrhea, they should immediately abstain from sex, seek medical advice, and inform their sexual partner(s) once a doctor has made a diagnosis.

As long as a person seeks treatment quickly, there should not be any long-term damage or health consequences from an STI such as chlamydia or gonorrhea.