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What Is Gonorrhoea?

Worried woman in bed with her partner

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Formerly known as ‘the clap’, gonorrhoea is caused by a type of bacteria belonging to the group called ‘gonococcus’.

How do you catch gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sex. This includes vaginal, oral or anal sex. Shared sex toys can also pass on the infection if they aren’t washed after use. After chlamydia and genital warts, gonorrhoea is the third most commonly diagnosed STI in England. Over 36,000 diagnoses were made in England in 2016.

Gonorrhoea symptoms

Symptoms of gonorrhoea in men

The majority of infected men - around 90% - will experience symptoms of gonorrhoea. These symptoms normally develop within two weeks of infection, although sometimes not for many months, if at all. Therefore the condition can remain undetected for a prolonged period of time.

Symptoms of gonorrhoea in women

Gonorrhoea symptoms are less common in women than men. Only around 50% of infected women will experience symptoms of gonorrhoea. The lack of symptoms can lead to the gonorrhoea being undetected and untreated. As with male gonorrhoea, symptoms in women normally develop within two weeks of exposure, although this can occasionally be longer.

Testing for gonorrhoea

Treating gonorrhea is usually straightforward and effective. Gonorrhoea is treated with antibiotics. This may involve a single antibiotic injection and/or antibiotic tablets. Such treatment is over 95% effective.
Most symptoms - such as discharge - should clear up within a few days of the treatment. Pain in the tummy and testicles may take a couple of weeks to fully clear. If your symptoms persist contact your local sexual health clinic or GP.
A further test should be arranged for a couple of weeks after treatment to check the gonorrhoea has cleared. You should avoid having sex until you have been cleared of gonorrhoea and any partners must be treated.

Gonorrhoea treatment

Treating gonorrhea is usually straightforward and effective. Gonorrhoea is treated with antibiotics. This may involve a single antibiotic injection and/or antibiotic tablets. Such treatment is over 95% effective.

Most symptoms - such as discharge - should clear up within a few days of the treatment. Pain in the tummy and testicles may take a couple of weeks to fully clear. If your symptoms persist contact your local sexual health clinic or GP.

A further test should be arranged for a couple of weeks after treatment to check the gonorrhoea has cleared. You should avoid having sex until you have been cleared of gonorrhoea and any partners must be treated.

Potential dangers of gonorrhoea

If treated early, gonorrhoea shouldn’t cause any long-term problems. However without effective treatment the infection can spread and pose dangers to your long-term health. The longer gonorrhoea is left untreated, the higher the chances of future complications.

In women, untreated gonorrhoea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This can lead to long-term pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy, blocked fallopian tubes and infertility. PID occurs in between 10-20% of cases of untreated female gonorrhoea.

In men, untreated gonorrhoea can lead to a painful infection in the testicles and prostate gland. In rare cases this can reduce fertility.

Infrequently, untreated gonorrhoea in both genders can cause inflammation and swelling of the joints and tendons. Irritated skin can also occur. However such occurrences are uncommon.

Preventing gonorrhoea

Preventing gonorrhoea is the same as preventing most STIs. Using a condom during sexual intercourse is by far the most effective method of protection. Condoms are especially important if you are having sex with multiple partners or a new partner.

If you are in a monogamous relationship, you and your partner should both get tested to ensure neither of you have any underlying or symptomless STIs. Our STI check for women, men and men who have sex with men, test for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV.