How do doctors test for gonorrhea and chlamydia?

It is important for people to understand the tests used to detect gonorrhea and chlamydia.

These are two of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States and can have serious health consequences if left undiagnosed and untreated. 

We will explore the different methods used by doctors to diagnose gonorrhea and chlamydia and discuss the implications of an accurate diagnosis.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia: A doctor’s perspective

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are two sexually transmitted infections (STIs) caused by the overgrowth of bacteria that can infect the genitals, anus, and throat.

The bacteria that causes chlamydia is known as Chlamydia trachomatis while the bacteria that causes gonorrhea is called Neisseria gonorrhea.

Both infections can have serious consequences if left untreated, so it’s important to get tested regularly, especially if you are sexually active with multiple partners.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that sexually active women aged 24 and younger, as well as women aged 25 and older, be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea although infection rates are highest among adolescents and young adults of both sexes.

However, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea in men is beneficial.

Symptoms

Symptoms of gonorrhea and chlamydia can vary or be absent altogether, making regular testing crucial. These two sexually transmitted infections share common symptoms as well. 

Nonetheless, Gonorrhea has more severe possible complications than chlamydia. Here are some common symptoms:

Gonorrhea:

  • Painful urination
  • Discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Pain or swelling in the testicles
  • Sore throat or swollen glands

Chlamydia:

  • Painful urination
  • Discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Pain or bleeding during sex
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
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How to test for gonorrhea and chlamydia in males and females

If you experience any of the symptoms above, it’s important to see a doctor for testing.

Testing for gonorrhea and chlamydia can involve several methods

  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) 
  • Gonorrhea/chlamydia Culture
  • Gram Stain
  • Blood Test

Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT)

This is the most common method of testing for both infections. NAAT detects the genetic material of the bacteria in urine, vaginal swabs, or penile swabs.

NAATs are a type of test for gonorrhea that have several advantages. They are more sensitive than bacterial cultures, which means they can detect the infection more accurately, especially in women with chronic infections.

NAATs are also useful for screening because they can distinguish between symptomatic and asymptomatic infections. 

NAATs can be used on noninvasive specimens such as urine or self-collected samples, which is beneficial for patients living in remote areas or with cultural restrictions. 

Furthermore, unlike bacterial cultures, NAATs do not require strict transport conditions.

Gonorrhea & chlamydia Culture

Gonorrhea and chlamydia culture are tests used to detect the presence of these bacteria in a sample from the affected area.

The sample can be collected from the genitals, anus, or throat. Usually, the sample is placed on a special culture medium that allows the bacteria to grow but for chlamydia, the sample is placed in a cell culture and observed for the presence of the bacteria.

Chlamydia cannot be grown on conventional bacteriological medium.

This test can take several days to get results and is less sensitive than newer tests like nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs).

Gram Stain

Gram staining is not commonly used to detect chlamydia or gonorrhea. This is due to the difficulty of seeing the bacteria that cause these infections under a microscope using traditional staining methods. 

In some cases, such as in remote or resource-limited areas where NAATs are unavailable, a Gram stain may be used as a preliminary test to screen for gonorrhea. 

A Gram stain of a urethral or cervical swab can reveal the bacteria’s characteristic appearance, indicating the presence of gonorrhea. 

The Gram stain, on the other hand, is less sensitive than NAATs and may miss some cases of infection.

Blood Test

A blood test is not commonly used to detect gonorrhea, this is because the bacteria that causes gonorrhea typically does not enter the bloodstream.

But in some cases, a blood test may be ordered to check for antibodies to gonorrhea. These antibodies can be detected in the blood several weeks after the initial infection.

It’s important to note that a blood test for gonorrhea antibodies isn’t a reliable way to detect an active infection. 

This is because antibodies can remain in the blood for months or even years after the infection has cleared. Not all people infected with gonorrhea produce detectable levels of antibodies.

This also applies to chlamydia. The antibody test does not appear to be a good screening test.

What Next?

Testing for gonorrhea and chlamydia is an important step in ensuring sexual health. If you have any symptoms or are sexually active with multiple partners, you should get tested regularly. 

Remember that early detection and treatment can help you avoid serious complications and stay healthy.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2023 by Our Editorial Team