How to tell if you have gonorrhoea and how to treat it
Last reviewed: 29 Aug 2019
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria. It can usually be treated by a short course of antibiotics. The bacteria that causes the infection is often found in vaginal discharge and sperm, making it easy to pass on and spread through having sex.
Can you test for gonorrhoea?
The only way to be sure you have gonorrhoea is to take a test. You should consider getting tested if you have had unprotected sex or have symptoms of gonorrhoea.
There are different ways to test for gonorrhoea, and samples can be collected by a:
- pee (urine) test, which checks for gonorrhoea bacteria in the tube you pee through (the urethra)
- swab of the affected area such as the throat, urethra, vagina, or bottom (anus)
You can test at home for gonorrhoea. A urine test is best for men and a swab test best for women. Urine tests are not as accurate in women. Both test kits are easy to use, and you will be able to collect your sample within minutes.
If you do not want to use a home test kit, you can get tested at a:
- GP surgery
- sexual health clinic
What’s the treatment for gonorrhoea and how does it work?
The usual treatment for gonorrhoea is a short course of antibiotics. These stop the bacteria from growing, so your body can help fight off the infection.
In most cases, an injection of antibiotics is the most effective way of stopping the infection. As we cannot offer this service, we would recommend getting treatment at a sexual health clinic. The clinic will also be able to test to see which antibiotic treatment will be best for you. Sometimes this might be a single antibiotic tablet.
Most of your symptoms should improve within a few days of treatment.
Once you have been treated for gonorrhoea, it’s still possible to get infected again. You can use condoms to avoid getting gonorrhoea, or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), in the future.
Treating babies for gonorrhoea
Gonorrhoea can be passed from a mother to a baby when the mother gives birth. Where this is a possibility, the baby will be given antibiotics straight away.
How to get gonorrhoea treatment
You’ll usually be offered treatment if:
- tests show you have gonorrhoea
- there is a high chance you have the infection even if you have not received your test results yet
- any sexual partners have gonorrhoea (and you have symptoms)
You can get tested and receive treatment from a sexual health clinic. Often you’ll need to make an appointment but some offer drop-in clinics. Most GPs will refer you to a sexual health clinic but some may treat patients with gonorrhoea.
What to expect during treatment
- Any symptoms you have should start to improve within a few days
- You will usually be offered a follow-up test 2 to 4 weeks after treatment to check the infection has gone. This can be organised by the clinic, GP surgery, or you can use another home test from Zava
- Women may experience heavy periods or bleeding between periods. This should get better by your next period
- You should avoid having sex until you, and any sexual partners, are treated for the infection
- If you do decide to have sex before receiving your test results, you should use a condom to avoid passing the infection on to other sexual partners
- You should let any sexual partners know if you have gonorrhoea, so they can be tested too. Zava can provide this service if you use one of our test kits and are given a positive result. If you get a test from a sexual health clinic, they can also help you do this as well. Your sexual partner(s) will be told that they may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and that they should get tested. This is confidential and they’ll not know it has come from you
What if treatment doesn’t work?
If your symptoms have not improved after you’ve had treatment, or you think you may have been infected again, you should ask for advice from a doctor or nurse. You should still avoid having sex until you or any partners have been given the all-clear and no longer have the infection.
What can happen if you do not treat gonorrhoea?
If you leave gonorrhoea untreated, it can cause long-term effects.
- In men, gonorrhoea can cause an infection in the testicles and prostate gland which may be painful, and can lead to infertility in some cases.
- In women, the infection can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID happens in up to 20% of untreated gonorrhoea cases and can lead to pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy and infertility
- During pregnancy, gonorrhoea has been linked to miscarriage, going into labour early, and pink eye (conjunctivitis) in the newborn baby. If this is not treated right away, there is a chance of permanent damage to the baby’s eyesight
- There’s a higher chance of passing on HIV if you have it
- The infection can spread to the rest of the body through the bloodstream. It can affect the joints and skin. In very bad cases it can cause a life-threatening infection known as sepsis
How can you prevent gonorrhoea?
- Use a condom every time you have sex whether it’s vaginal, anal or oral
- Do not share sex toys, or always wash them and cover them with a fresh condom before anyone uses them
- Have regular sexually transmitted infection (STI) tests and encourage your sexual partners to do the same
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Mayo Clinic. (2019). Gonorrhoea. [online]. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gonorrhea/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351780 [accessed 21 August 2019].
NHS. (2018). Gonorrhoea. [online]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gonorrhoea [accessed 21 August 2019].
Unemo, M. (2015). Current and Future Antimicrobial Treatment of Gonorrhoea – The Rapidly Evolving Neisseria Gonorrhoeae Continues to Challenge. [online]. BMC .Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26293005 [accessed 21 August 2019].
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.