What is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial STI in the UK, after chlamydia. It is caused by a tiny organism, which is found in the semen (cum) and vaginal fluid of infected men and women. It is very easily cured but, if left untreated, Gonorrhoea can cause serious reproductive and health problems.

The majority of people who test positive are under 25.

Listen to Jill Ladlow, one of our expert Sexual Health Nurses, give an overview on Gonorrheoa in the video below. She explains about symptoms, how people catch it, how you can get tested and what the treatment usually involves.

What are the symptoms?

About 50% of women, and 10% of men have no symptoms and carry the infection without knowing. This is why it is important to test frequently, especially if you change partners. Those with symptoms of gonorrhoea, may experience the following:

Men:

  • White/cloudy, yellow or green coloured discharge from the tip of the penis
  • Pain when peeing
  • Burning or itchy penis
  • Swelling of the foreskin at the tip of the penis
  • Testicle pain

Women:

  • Bleeding between periods and/or heavier periods
  • Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina or anus (bottom) that may be green or yellow in colour
  • Pain when peeing

Both men and women can get gonorrhoea in their eyes, which may lead to conjunctivitis. This commonly causes red, swollen, itchy and watery eyes, sometimes with a sticky coating on eye lashes.

How do you catch it?

People usually get gonorrhoea by having sex without a condom (unprotected sex) and through genital-to-genital sexual contact with someone who is infected. Many people don’t realise that gonorrhoea can be caught through sharing sex toys if you don’t wash or cover them with a new condom each time they’re used.

It can also be passed on from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth. In this case, treatment can be given during pregnancy.

You cannot get gonorrhoea from kissing, hugging, sharing baths, towels, cups and cutlery, swimming pools or toilet seats.

How do you prevent it?

If you’re sexually active, using condoms every time you have sex is the best way to prevent gonorrhoea. If you or your partner(s) have symptoms or think you have been exposed to an STI, make sure you get tested and stop sexual contact until you have been treated or have the all-clear.

Want to get tested?

How can you get tested?

If you think that you might have gonorrhoea but don’t have any symptoms, we advise you wait two weeks before doing a test. This is because it can take up to two weeks for gonorrhoea to show up in a test. However, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you should get tested as soon as you can.

You can get a free, confidential gonorrhoea test at a sexual health clinic like those run by Virgin Care, a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, most contraception clinics and GP surgeries. If you’re under 25, you can also get tested for free at young people’s services like Brook.

It is possible to pay for at-home gonorrhoea testing kits. However the accuracy of these vary so if you do decide to use one of these tests, we advise that you speak to your local pharmacist or GP.

Testing for gonorrhoea is easy and pain-free. If you don’t have any symptoms, you’ll usually be asked for a urine sample if male, and a self-swab and/or urine sample if female. If you have symptoms, you’ll usually be asked for a urine sample (if male) and a nurse will take a swab from your vagina or penis. If you’ve had anal or oral sex, a swab may also be taken from your either rectum (bottom) or throat – this doesn’t usually cause any pain but you may experience slight discomfort.

If your gonorrhoea test comes back as positive, it is important that you tell all of your sexual partners from the last six months so that they can also get tested and treated if necessary. If you prefer, your sexual health service can support you to get in contact with these people anonymously.

What treatment is available?

Gonorrhoea is easily treated with antibiotics. In most cases you will be given a single antibiotic injection followed by some tablets.

Most antibiotics are safe to take with hormonal contraception like the pill, implant, injection and patch. However, it is important to tell your nurse or doctor what medications you’re taking, if you’re pregnant, could be pregnant or are breastfeeding.

In urgent cases, we may treat you before getting your test results back. For example, if you’ve been contacted by a current or past sexual partner who has tested positive or is worried about being infected, or if you’re experiencing one or more of the symptoms after having unprotected sex.

It is extremely important that you don’t have sex or any sexual contact for seven days after you and your partner have finished the treatment to avoid being re-infected or passing on the infection.

Useful links

  • BAASH (British Association for Sexual Health and HIV) has a comprehensive patient information leaflet on gonorrhoea
  • NHS Choices has lots of information about STIs including a specific page on gonorrhoea and two useful guides on penis problems and vagina problems. They also have a search tool to find out if free online chlamydia and gonorrhoea tests are offered near you
  • Brook has more information and advice on STIs written for people under 25, including gonorrhoea
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