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What is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This bacteria is carried in semen and vaginal fluid, and can be spread to another person during unprotected sex.

When left untreated gonorrhoea can cause serious complications. Because the infection does not always cause symptoms, particularly early on, it’s important to get tested if you think you’ve been exposed, even if you feel completely healthy.

How do you get gonorrhoea?

You can contract gonorrhoea by having vaginal, anal or oral sex without a condom. It’s also possible to spread the infection by sharing sex toys.

Having sex without a condom means that fluids containing gonorrhoea bacteria can infect the cervix, urethra or rectum. It’s also possible for fluids to enter the throat or eye during sex, and cause infections in these places.

To stay protected during oral sex you can use condoms or dental dams, thin squares of flexible plastic that lie across the genitals or anus.


It’s believed that one in 10 men and five in 10 women do not experience symptoms after becoming infected with gonorrhoea. Those people who do typically start to experience symptoms after about two weeks (although it can take much longer).

Symptoms in women include:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge e.g. thin, watery, green/yellow
  • Pain when urinating
  • Pain in the abdomen and pelvis
  • Irregular bleeding e.g. between periods, after sex
  • Heavier periods

Symptoms in men include:

  • Unusual discharge from the penis e.g. white/yellow/green
  • Pain when urinating
  • Swollen foreskin
  • Pain in the testicles

Infection in the rectum can cause pain and discharge. Infection in the eye can cause conjunctivitis (redness, pain, discharge).


You usually have to wait a week after sex to be tested for gonorrhoea. Testing involves a urine sample or a swab of the affected area. You can be tested for free at an NHS clinic, or you can order a home test kit and send off your sample to a lab.


You don’t always require positive test results to receive treatment for gonorrhoea. If your partner has been diagnosed with gonorrhoea, or if your doctor believes there’s a high chance you have it, you can receive treatment straight away.

Usually treatment involves one injection of antibiotics and one tablet containing antibiotics.

Content reviewed by Jemma Shafier, a Doctor Care Anywhere GP