Chlamydia vs Gonorrhea: What’s the Difference?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are more common than most people think, with two of the most common STIs being chlamydia and gonorrhea. What makes these two infections so common is that, in many cases, they do not cause symptoms.

However, even when symptoms are present, they can be similar, despite the infections themselves coming from different causes. Continue reading to see the differences in each STI and what you need to do to cure them.

Table of Contents

What’s The Difference Between Chlamydia and Gonorrhea?

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can spread through genital, anal, or oral sex. However, despite these similarities, they are caused by different types of bacteria, which affect the body differently and require different treatments.

Symptoms Of Chlamydia vs Gonorrhea

Some of the most common symptoms of both these STIs are the same, and these symptoms include:

  • abnormal, discolored discharge from the vagina or penis
  • burning when peeing
  • pain in the rectum
  • abnormal discharge from the rectum
  • bleeding from the rectum

However, many people with chlamydia or gonorrhea do not have any symptoms, and with chlamydia, some people may have symptoms that do not appear until a few weeks after contracting the infection.

For those who engage in oral sex with someone who has chlamydia or gonorrhea, it is possible to experience a sore throat or cough due to infection.

If chlamydia moves to the uterus and fallopian tubes, women may experience pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which causes symptoms such as

  • feeling sick
  • fever
  • intense pain in the pelvic area
  • vaginal bleeding

It is crucial to seek emergency medication attention if you suspect you have PID.

With gonorrhea, men are much more likely to have severe symptoms, whereas women may have no or very mild symptoms.

Gonorrhea can also cause additional symptoms of rectal soreness, itching, and pain when defecating. Women may also bleed more heavily during their period or have pain when having sex.

What Causes Chlamydia and Gonorrhea?

Bacteria cause chlamydia and gonorrhea, but the types of bacteria causing these infections differ.

Chlamydia is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium while chlamydia is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacterium.

How Are They Diagnosed?

Similar diagnostic methods are used to diagnose both conditions.

One method is through a physical examination, where your doctor will look for symptoms of the STI and your overall health.

Your doctor may also perform a urine test, which checks urine for bacteria. A blood or swab test (with a sample taken from the discharge of the penis or vagina) can also check for bacterial infection.

How Are Chlamydia and Gonorrhea Treated?

Both STIs are curable through treatment with antibiotics.

Chlamydia is typically treated with azithromycin, also known as a Z-Pak or Zithromycin. It may be taken all at once or over the course of a few days (typically 5), depending on your doctor’s orders and the specific antibiotic prescribed.

Doxycycline (Monodox, Oracea) is another antibiotic that may be prescribed to treat chlamydia, and it is typically taken twice a day for a week.

As for gonorrhea, the CDC previously recommended ceftriaxone plus azithromycin for treatment, but these guidelines have been changed because of increasing resistance to azithromycin in the bacteria causing gonorrhea.

Now, gonorrhea is typically treated with a ceftriaxone (Rocephin) injection into the buttocks. In some cases, it may be followed up with a course of azithromycin or doxycycline.

Whenever receiving treatment for chlamydia or gonorrhea, it is crucial to refrain from sexual activities until you are finished with your course of antibiotics to prevent spreading the infection to your sexual partner.

Additionally, despite these infections being curable, you are more likely to contract the infection again if you’ve had either STI before.

Complications of Chlamydia vs Gonorrhea Complications

One of the greatest complications of chlamydia and gonorrhea is a greater risk of contracting other STIs. This is because gonorrhea and chlamydia make you more susceptible to other STIs, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Both infections can also cause complications with infertility due to the damage they can cause to reproductive organs or sperm. The risk of infertility is higher in those infected by gonorrhea, although it can occur due to either STI.

In males, both STIs can cause testicular infection or prostate gland infection. In women, some potential complications include infections in newborns, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or an ectopic pregnancy.

Chlamydia also has a potential complication of Reiter’s syndrome, also known as reactive arthritis, which occurs due to an infection in the urinary tract or intestines. Some symptoms of this condition include swelling, pain, or tightness in the eyes or joints.

Who Is at Risk for These Conditions?

Those at an increased risk of gonorrhea and chlamydia include those who

  • don’t properly use barrier method protection (e.g., condoms)
  • have multiple sexual partners at one time
  • have had an STI before
  • regularly use douches on the vagina

How To Prevent Both Chlamydia and Gonorrhea?

There are many actions you can take to prevent both chlamydia and gonorrhea, although the most full-proof method is to abstain from sexual activity.

However, those who partake in sexual activities can still protect themselves and their partners.

Using a male or female condom can reduce the risk of infection, and this can be used during oral or anal sex as well.

Limiting sexual partners can also help to prevent these STIs since the more sexual partners you have, the greater the risk of infection exposures. Since chlamydia and gonorrhea may not cause symptoms, it is very easy for them to spread between sexual partners unknowingly.

Finally, regular testing for STIs can help you understand your sexual health and receive treatment if any infections are detected. If you have an STI with no symptoms, regular testing is the only way to diagnose the infection and begin treatment before the infection has time to cause complications.

Which Is Worse, Chlamydia or Gonorrhea?

Chlamydia is more than twice as common as gonorrhea, with a 2017 report citing over 1.7 million cases of chlamydia in the United States but only 550,000 cases of gonorrhea.

However, those with gonorrhea are at a greater risk of severe complications, and gonorrhea is more likely to cause long-term problems, such as infertility.

When To See a Doctor?

If you are sexually active and experience any symptoms of gonorrhea, chlamydia, or any other STI, it is always recommended to speak to a doctor as soon as you are able.

Some of the symptoms to watch for include:

  • burning sensation in the groin
  • unusual discharge
  • unexplained rashes or sores

It’s also recommended to see a doctor if you have completed treatment for chlamydia or gonorrhea, but your symptoms persist. Gonorrhea, in particular, has a few strains that are resistant to standard antibiotic treatment, so if your symptoms persist, your doctor may need to prescribe another type of antibiotic.  

How can DrHouse Help You?

At DrHouse, we understand that dealing with an STI can be embarrassing and difficult to talk about.  We offer confidential STD consultations and treatment so you can get the help you need without having to worry about your privacy.

Our online doctors can answer any questions you have and can also provide prescriptions for medication if necessary.  We also offer a wide range of tests that can be done in the comfort and privacy of your own home.

If you think you may have an STI, or if you have any questions about STD testing or treatment, please don’t hesitate to contact us today. We are here to help you get the information and care you need.

Key Takeaways

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two types of STIs that result from bacterial infection. While many people with these conditions may not have any symptoms, the symptoms, when present, can also be similar, which can make distinguishing between the two based on symptoms alone tricky.

Diagnostic tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea include pelvic exams, urine samples, and blood or swab tests. Treatment, while antibiotics for both, then depend on the type of bacteria causing the infection.

Seeing a doctor as soon as you experience symptoms of an STI and following the treatment as prescribed are essential actions to cure the infection and prevent potential complications.

References

  • Chlamydia: Basic Fact Sheet. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm 
  • Davidson, K., Barry, M., Mangione, C., Cabana, M., Caughey, A., & Davis, E. et al. (2021). Screening for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. JAMA, 326(10), 949. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1001/jama.2021.14081 
  • van Bergen, J., Hoenderboom, B., David, S., Deug, F., Heijne, J., & van Aar, F. et al. (2021). Where to go to in chlamydia control? From infection control towards infectious disease control. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 97(7), 501-506. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1136/sextrans-2021-054992 
  • Panzetta, M., Valdivia, R., & Saka, H. (2018). Chlamydia Persistence: A Survival Strategy to Evade Antimicrobial Effects in-vitro and in-vivo. Frontiers In Microbiology, 9. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.03101
  • Hook, E., & Kirkcaldy, R. (2018). A Brief History of Evolving Diagnostics and Therapy for Gonorrhea: Lessons Learned. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 67(8), 1294-1299. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciy271 
  • Pillay, J., Wingert, A., MacGregor, T., Gates, M., Vandermeer, B., & Hartling, L. (2021). Screening for chlamydia and/or gonorrhea in primary health care: systematic reviews on effectiveness and patient preferences. Systematic Reviews, 10(1). doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1186/s13643-021-01658-w 
  • Schlanger, K., Learner, E. R., Pham, C. D., Mauk, K., Golden, M., Wendel, K. A., Amsterdam, L., McNeil, C. J., Johnson, K., Nguyen, T. Q., Holderman, J. L., Hasty, G. L., St Cyr, S. B., Town, K., Nash, E. E., Kirkcaldy, R. D., & SURRG Working Group (2021). Strengthening the US Response to Resistant Gonorrhea: An Overview of a Multisite Program to Enhance Local Response Capacity for Antibiotic-Resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Sexually transmitted diseases, 48(12S Suppl 2), S97–S103. https://doi.org/10.1097/OLQ.0000000000001545 

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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