Knowing whether you have gonorrhea can be difficult if you’re a woman. Planned Parenthood estimates that 80 percent of infected females have no symptoms at all.

That doesn’t mean they can’t still spread the sexually transmitted disease. In fact, gonorrhea infection rates are rising faster than ever, according to recently released statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, there were 400,000 reported cases of gonorrhea.

When symptoms do show themselves in women, they tend to look like a bladder or vaginal infection and can easily be confused for one, the CDC says. The signs include burning or pain when peeing, non-menstrual bleeding and unusual vaginal discharge. Planned Parenthood also notes abdominal pain, fever, swelling or tenderness and vomiting.

But that’s just from vaginal intercourse — gonorrhea can also spread through anal or oral sex. Rectal and oral infections are equally quiet, with oral infections showing no symptoms in 90 percent of cases, according to Planned Parenthood. It can present, however, with itchiness or soreness in the throat and trouble swallowing, while rectal infections may cause discharge, itch, bleeding, soreness and painful bowel movements, the CDC notes.

Antibiotics can cure gonorrhea, and should be used on both partners before having sex again. But the CDC warns that some forms of gonorrhea are drug-resistant and require vigilance, and that being cured does not make a person immune to later gonorrhea infections — unprotected sex with an infected partner can cause the disease again and again.

If gonorrhea is left untreated, it can cause serious fertility problems or harm your baby. The CDC says a pregnant woman who contracts gonorrhea might give the infection to her baby during delivery. That’s if the baby survives: Planned Parenthood says it is possible for untreated gonorrhea to cause premature labor and stillbirth. And for the women who aren’t currently pregnant but would like to be one day, about 20 percent of untreated gonorrhea cases can infect other reproductive organs like the uterus and ovaries, a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease. If that, in turn, is left untreated, it can cause infertility and chronic pelvic pain, according to the federal government’s Office on Women's Health: “Your chances of getting pregnant are lower if you have had PID more than once.”

It's important to treat gonorrhea because its complications include infertility. Image courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

Other rare complications of untreated gonorrhea include an increased risk of spreading or contracting HIV, or the bacteria spreading to the blood and other body parts, such as the joints, which could be life-threatening. According to the Mayo Clinic, infected joints may become swollen and painful. And if gonorrhea gets into your eyes, it causes pain, light sensitivity and discharge.

Worried you might have gonorrhea? It’s easy to get tested through your doctor, Planned Parenthood, or other clinics or health departments. But the best defense against the disease is to use protection while having sex.