You may not have any symptoms of gonorrhoea. If you get symptoms, they usually begin within the first two to five days of getting infected in men, and within 10 days in women.
In men, symptoms of gonorrhoea include:
- an unusual discharge from your penis that is yellow or bloody
- pain when you pass urine
- pain and swelling in your testicles
In women, symptoms of gonorrhoea include:
- an increased or unusual discharge from your vagina that is yellow or bloody
- pain when you pass urine
- pain in your lower abdomen (tummy)
- pain during sex
- bleeding between periods
- heavy periods
In both men and women, if you have a gonorrhoea infection in your rectum (back passage) it can cause pain and discomfort. You can also get a discharge from your anus. However, most people don’t have any symptoms.
An infection in your eyes will commonly cause conjunctivitis. A gonorrhoea infection in your throat will rarely cause any symptoms but you can still pass on the infection to others through oral sex.
If you have any of these symptoms or think you could be at risk, visit a sexual health clinic or see your GP.
If you think you may have gonorrhoea, visit a sexual health clinic or see your GP. Some family planning clinics also provide testing and treatment.
Your GP will usually refer you to a sexual health clinic to be tested and to get treatment, or you can make your own appointment. All visits are confidential and you don’t have to give your real name. Details won’t be sent to your GP without your consent.
You can have a test for gonorrhoea even if you don’t have any symptoms.
There are different ways to test for gonorrhoea.
- It’s possible that a sample of your urine will be tested. You may be asked not to go to the toilet for at least an hour before this test. This is normally just used in men.
- A doctor or nurse may use a swab (similar to a small, round cotton bud) to take a sample. The sample will be taken from the urethra, cervix or vagina (in women) or from the tip of the penis (in men). Women may have the option to collect a sample of cells from their vagina themselves using a swab.
- If you have recently had anal or oral sex, a doctor or nurse may use a swab to take a sample from your rectum or throat.
Your samples may be sent to a laboratory for testing. Or a doctor may look for the bacteria under a microscope and give you the result immediately.
If the tests show that you have gonorrhoea, it’s important to contact your previous partners who may be at risk. This will help to prevent them from spreading the infection to others. Sexual health clinics can support you with this.
You will be prescribed a combination of two antibiotics to treat gonorrhoea. You will usually take a single dose tablet and have a single injection. You may also be offered treatment for chlamydia at the same time because the two infections often occur together.
Once you’re diagnosed with gonorrhoea, it’s important to wait until you and your partner have completed your treatment before you have sex again. This will usually be seven days after taking antibiotics. The doctor who treats you may offer to test you again to check whether the treatment has worked. You will be advised to wait until you’re given you the ‘all clear’ before you have sex again.
Tell any doctor you visit if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. He or she will be able to choose an antibiotic that is safe for your baby.
There can be complications of untreated gonorrhoea when you’re pregnant. These include your baby being born prematurely or your waters breaking too early. It’s also possible to pass on gonorrhoea to your baby when you give birth. This can cause conjunctivitis in babies, which must be treated. If not, there is a risk that your baby may go blind.
Gonorrhoea is caused by bacteria called N. gonorrhoeae. These bacteria can infect:
- the neck of the womb (cervix)
- the tube that carries urine from your bladder and out of your body (urethra)
- your rectum
- your throat
- your eyes
N. gonorrhoeae is found in the semen of men and the vaginal fluids of women who have the infection. You can get or pass on gonorrhoea during vaginal, anal or oral sex, as well as by sharing sex toys.
A mother can also pass on gonorrhoea to her baby when she gives birth.
If you get treatment for gonorrhoea early, it’s less likely to cause you any further problems. If you don’t get treatment, there is a risk of the infection spreading to other parts of your body and causing complications. Not everyone who gets gonorrhoea will have complications, but the more times you have the infection, the greater your chance of them.
In women, a gonorrhoea infection can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease if the infection spreads to your womb (uterus), fallopian tubes and ovaries. Pelvic inflammatory disease can cause infertility and ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilised egg implants outside your womb, most often in one of your fallopian tubes).
In men, a gonorrhoea infection can spread to your testicles. This may lead to pain and inflammation (swelling) in the tubes that carry sperm. This can lead to infertility although it’s rare.
The infection can potentially spread to other parts of your body too. You can get symptoms such as a fever, pain, tiredness, joint pain and swelling or a rash. Your heart, joints and spine can also be affected.
There are ways to lower your risk of getting or passing on gonorrhoea.
- Use condoms when having vaginal, oral or anal sex.
- Don’t share sex toys. If you do share them, wash them or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.
- Before having sex with a new partner, you could both consider having a test for gonorrhoea and other STIs.
After treatment, do I need to have another test to check that gonorrhoea has cleared up?
Yes, it’s a good idea to return to your GP surgery or sexual health clinic to be tested to ensure that the infection has gone.
Gonorrhoea bacteria have begun to show resistance to the antibiotics used to treat the infection. This means that the infection is more difficult to treat now. This is one reason why your GP or clinic will ask you to return after you have finished your course of treatment. This way they can check that you’re no longer infected. Other reasons to go back for another test include:
- still having symptoms that haven’t gone away
- having gonorrhoea infection in your throat
- being pregnant
Keep your appointment for the final test because you may need further treatment. If the first treatment hasn’t worked, you risk passing on the infection to someone else, and developing complications.
How soon after having unprotected sex can I have a test for gonorrhoea?
If you think you may have been infected with gonorrhoea, don’t delay getting tested. However, you may need to return after two weeks to be sure of the diagnosis. You can still have a test even if you don’t have any symptoms. Around one in 10 men and half of women will have no symptoms even though they have the infection.
It can take up to 10 days before gonorrhoea infection can be detected. It’s best to wait about three days after you last had sex to have your first test. However, you may need to return for further testing up to two weeks later to be sure that you have the right diagnosis.
If there is a high chance you have been infected, you may be offered treatment before your results come back. This may be because your sexual partner has tested positive for gonorrhoea, for example. The sooner gonorrhoea is treated, the better your chance of making a full recovery and having fewer complications.
If I have gonorrhoea, is it likely that I have another sexually transmitted infection (STI) too?
Yes, often people who have gonorrhoea also have other STIs, such as chlamydia.
Around one in three people who have gonorrhoea are infected with chlamydia at the same time. It’s a good idea to be tested for other STIs (if you’re offered them) when you’re being tested for gonorrhoea.
Research suggests if you’re infected with gonorrhoea, you’re around four times more at risk of being infected with HIV if you’re exposed to the virus. It’s important to find out if you have any STIs, such as gonorrhoea, and complete your course of treatment. This will help to protect you from complications and prevent you from passing on the infection.
- FPA (Family Planning Association)
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- Map of Medicine. Gonorrhoea. International View. London: Map of Medicine; 2011 (Issue 3)
- Health protection report. Public Health England. www.hpa.org.uk, published 7 June 2013
- Gonorrhoea. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 17 November 2011
- Bignell C, Fitzgerald M. UK national guideline for the management of gonorrhoea in adults, 2011. Int J STD AIDS 2011; 22(10):541–47. doi:10.1258/ijsa.2011.011267
- A BASHH guide to – gonorrhoea. British Association for Sexual Health and HIV. www.bashh.org, published January 2012
- Gonorrhoea. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published November 2011
- General information. Public Health England. www.hpa.org.uk, published 4 March 2014
- Gonorrhea. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 29 July 2013
- How to get help with your sexual health. Family Planning Association. www.fpa.org.uk, published 4 March 2014
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- FPA (Family Planning Association)
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