What is gonorrhoea?
Last reviewed: 24 Mar 2019
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s caused by bacteria called ‘Neisseria gonorrhoeae’ or ‘gonococcus’, which are usually found in discharge from the penis or vagina.
Recognising gonorrhoea symptoms
Symptoms of gonorrhoea usually come on 2 weeks after you catch the infection, but it’s possible for symptoms not to appear until months later. Around 1 in 10 infected men and 5 in 10 infected women may not develop any symptoms at all, which means that they don’t get treatment straight away and can risk passing it on.
Both men and women can get an infection in the throat, eyes, or back passage (anus) by having unprotected anal or oral sex:
- Infected semen or vaginal fluid coming into contact with your eyes can cause conjunctivitis
- Infections of the rectum or back passage (anus) can cause discomfort, pain, or discharge
- Infections of the throat usually doesn’t cause any symptoms
Symptoms in women can be different from person to person, and many women may not get any obvious symptoms at all. In women the most common symptoms include:
- unusual vaginal discharge, which might have a thin or watery texture and be green or yellow in colour
- pain, or a burning feeling when peeing
- irregular periods
- bleeding between periods, heavier periods, and/or bleeding after sex
Symptoms in men can also vary between men, and some men may not get any obvious symptoms. In men the most common symptoms include:
- an unusual discharge from the tip of the penis which may be white, yellow, or green in colour
- pain, or a burning sensation when peeing
- a swollen foreskin
Gonorrhoea in babies: gonorrhoea can be passed from a mother to her baby during birth. It’s important to get tested for gonorrhoea if you think you may have been infected and you’re currently pregnant. Babies who have gonorrhoea may get symptoms in their eyes in the first two weeks after birth. Their eyes become red swollen and have a thick pus-like discharge.
Testing for gonorrhoea
The only way to find out if you have gonorrhoea is to get tested. You might want to get tested if you have symptoms of gonorrhoea or another STI, or you’ve had unprotected sex and might have caught something.
It’s recommended you get tested if:
- you or your partner have any of the symptoms of gonorrhoea listed above
- you’ve recently had unprotected sex with a new partner
- a partner has had unprotected sex with other people
- during a physical exam, a health care professional tells you the cells of your cervix are inflamed or there is discharge
- you already have another STI
- a partner informs you they have an STI
- you’re currently pregnant or planning to get pregnant
Places you can get tested include:
- at home – we offer a variety of home test kits you can use to check your STI status. Order a test kit online from Zava and get a convenient testing service with extra support if needed
- at a sexual health (GUM) clinic
- at your local GP surgery
How to order a gonorrhoea test kit online:
- Answer a few simple questions about your health and place your order online
- Your order will be checked and approved if it’s right for you
- If approved, your order can be sent to you, or to a local Post Office to collect
How Zava’s testing service works:
- You’ll receive your test kit by post
- Follow the instructions provided with the test kit and collect a sample (depending on the test kit this could be a blood or urine sample, or a swab)
- The test kit comes with a freepost envelope, ready to send to our partner lab, who will check your sample
- Once your results have come back, you’ll be able to view them in your secure account
- We’ll never send medical or personal information via email or SMS
What’s the treatment for gonorrhoea and how does it work?
The standard treatment for gonorrhoea is a course of antibiotics, which work by preventing the bacteria from multiplying, helping your body fight off the infection.
Treatment usually involves having an injection of an antibiotic as well as a tablet antibiotic course.
At Zava we don’t currently offer gonorrhoea treatment.
How to get gonorrhoea treatment
Zava doesn’t offer treatment for gonorrhoea online, but you can go to a local sexual health clinic or your GP surgery instead. They’ll be able to provide you with an injection and oral antibiotics if they’re needed, and if they’re right for you.
What to expect during treatment
What will happen to my symptoms? After starting treatment you should start to see an improvement in your symptoms, if you had any to begin with. Usually, symptoms will clear up within a week of starting treatment. If you’re taking oral tablets for gonorrhoea, even if your symptoms improve, you should take the full course of medication to make sure the infection doesn’t come back.
When will my infection be gone? A follow up test is normally done 2 to 4 weeks after the treatment, this is normally called a “test of cure” and it checks that you’re now cleared of any STIs. This can be organised through Zava or via the clinic where you obtained treatment. Bleeding between periods or heavy periods should improve by the time of your next period.
When can I have sex again? We recommend you don’t have sex while you have gonorrhoea. This includes before you get confirmation of your infection, and even after your symptoms have gone away or you finished treatment but you haven’t had your test of cure yet. We recommended only starting to have sex again when you, and also your partner, have had a test of cure that shows you’re no longer infected. If you decide to have sex before you’ve tested negative for gonorrhoea, you should use a condom to avoid passing your infection on.
What if treatment doesn’t work?
If you still have symptoms after the course of treatment: if your symptoms haven’t gone away within two weeks, or after you’ve finished your treatment, you could still have the infection. You should avoid having sex until you or your partner have had a test of cure and if you’re still having symptoms, you should go to your GP or GUM clinic and get advice on next steps.
Why is gonorrhoea becoming harder to treat? It’s becoming increasingly harder to treat Gonorrhoea, because the bacteria that cause it are becoming resistant to medication. Because this is a growing problem, you should make sure you wait to have sex until your infection has completely gone and you should always use condoms during sex to avoid future infections.
Can you cure gonorrhoea?
Will treatment remove the infection completely? Yes. A gonorrhoea infection can be cured with medication. Proper treatment can stop the infection, but it can’t undo any permanent damage done, which is why getting testing and treatment as soon as possible is important.
Can you get gonorrhoea again after treatment? Yes. If you’ve had gonorrhoea and taken medication to treat it in the past, you can still get infected again if you have unprotected sex with a person who has gonorrhoea. There is no treatment, like a vaccine, that will make you immune to gonorrhoea.
Can you treat it with over-the-counter medications or natural remedies?
It’s a big risk to try and treat gonorrhoea without getting proper medical help. Over-the-counter medications or natural home remedies aren’t proven to be effective at treating Gonorrhoea. So if you try and use them instead of proper treatment, it can lead to a lasting infection and possibly some long-term consequences.
What are the long term consequences if gonorrhoea is left untreated? If it’s not treated, or it’s not treated properly, Gonorrhoea can lead to serious health complications, which include the following:
- Infertility in women. Untreated gonorrhoea can spread into the womb and fallopian tubes. This can lead to more complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can cause scarring of the tubes, a higher risk of even more complications in pregnancy, or infertility. PID is a serious infection that needs immediate medical attention
- Infertility in men. Untreated gonorrhoea can cause something called Epididymitis, which is the inflammation of a small tube in the testicles. Epididymitis is treatable, but if it’s left untreated it can lead to infertility
- Infection that spreads through the body. The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea can spread through the blood and infect other parts of the body, including your joints. People with untreated gonorrhoea may get a fever, rash, skin sores, joint pain, swelling, and stiffness
- Increased risk of HIV/AIDS. Untreated gonorrhoea increases your risk of getting infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), if you have sex with someone who has it. People who have gonorrhoea and HIV can also pass on both diseases more easily
- Complications for babies. Untreated gonorrhoea that’s passed from mother to child during birth can cause the child to get blindness, sores on the scalp, and other infections
How can you prevent gonorrhoea?
What can I do to stop myself getting gonorrhoea? Gonorrhoea and other STIs can be avoided by following this advice:
- Using male or female condoms every time you have vaginal sex, or male condoms during anal sex
- Not sharing sex toys, or washing them and covering them with a fresh condom before anyone uses them
- Getting regular testing for STIs and encouraging partners to do the same
Dr Nicholas Antonakopoulos graduated from the University of London in 2006. He did his postgraduate training in hospitals in the London area, and he trained for four years in Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery before completing his training in General practice in 2015.Meet our doctors
Last reviewed: 24 Mar 2019
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Zava offers a convenient and discreet service to test for sexually transmitted infections. You will receive your test kit by post. Follow the instructions provided with the test kit and collect a sample (depending on the test kit this could be a blood, saliva, urine sample or genital swab). The test kit comes with an envelope, ready to send to our partner laboratory which will analyse your sample. Once your result has come back, you will be able to view it in your secure Zava account. We will never send medical or personal information via email.