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Gonorrhea Culture (Discharge)

Does this test have other names?

GC, STD culture, culture of the cervix, urethra, and anus

What is this test?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium N. gonorrhoeae. These bacteria often thrive in moist areas of the reproductive tract, but they can also grow in the eyes, mouth and throat, or anus. This test uses body fluids from the affected areas, often the cervix, urethra, penis, or rectum, as the specimen.

Lab technicians then culture the specimen by putting it in a special container with food normally found in the bacteria's natural habitat. If the bacteria that cause gonorrhea grow in your specimen, it may mean you have gonorrhea.

Why do I need this test?

You may have this test if your doctor suspects you have gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is easily cured, but it can be dangerous and even life-threatening if untreated. It often causes pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which can lead to pain and infertility. It can also cause infertility in men and a potentially fatal blood infection in both women and men.

Symptoms of gonorrhea include:

  • Excess vaginal discharge  

  • Burning sensation when urinating

  • Bleeding between periods

  • Pelvic pain

  • Green, white, or yellow discharge from the penis 

  • Painful or swollen testicles

Anal itching, soreness and bleeding, and painful bowel movements are symptoms of anal gonorrhea.

If you are pregnant, you may also be checked for gonorrhea as part of your routine prenatal testing. A pregnant woman can pass gonorrhea to her baby during delivery, possibly causing blindness or a potentially fatal blood infection. Detecting and treating gonorrhea prevents such complications.

What other tests might I have along with this test?  

If you are a woman, your doctor may test you for both genital and rectal gonorrhea. If you have had anal and oral intercourse, your doctor will do a rectal and throat culture. You may also have blood tests or a tissue biopsy to check for other STDs.  

What do my test results mean?

Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your health care provider.

A negative, or normal, test result means the lab has found no evidence of gonorrhea. If you test positive for gonorrhea, you are most likely infected. Your sexual partner(s) should be tested and treated as well.

How is this test done?

A health care provider inserts a sterile, cotton-tipped swab into the area to be tested. You don't need to be sedated. Doctors often swab more than one site.

Does this test pose any risks?

This test poses no known risks.

What might affect my test results?

If you are female, your test results could be affected by:

  • Having your period

  • Douching within 24 hours of testing

  • Using lubricants and disinfectants

If you are male, your test results could be affected by:

  • Urinating within an hour of testing

Stool can contaminate samples taken from the anus. Taking antibiotics can also affect your test results.

How do I get ready for this test? 

Women should not take a bath or use a douche within 24 hours of testing. Men should not urinate within an hour of testing.  In addition, be sure your doctor knows about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use.