What are the symptoms of gonorrhoea?

Dr. Babak Ashrafi

Medically reviewed by

Dr Babak Ashrafi

Last reviewed: 28 Apr 2022

The most common symptom of gonorrhoea is discharge from the vagina or penis. Discharge may look green or yellow in colour. Discharge may be thick, or thin and watery.

Other symptoms of gonorrhoea include:

  • pain when peeing
  • pelvic pain in women
  • bleeding between periods in women
  • soreness, swelling, itchiness or redness of the penis in men
  • itchiness or tenderness in the rectum

Symptoms of gonorrhoea usually develop between 2 and 5 days after infection, but can develop as late as 10 days after infection. Rarely, symptoms of gonorrhoea may not appear until some months after infection.

Gonorrhoea does not always cause symptoms. It is estimated that around:

  • 5 in 10 women with gonorrhoea will not have symptoms
  • 1 in 10 men with gonorrhoea will not have symptoms

If you have gonorrhoea, it’s important to have treatment even if you do not have symptoms. This is because if left untreated, gonorrhoea can lead to further health problems. This includes pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility. If untreated, you could also pass gonorrhoea to your sexual partner.

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Young man standing at bus stop looking at symptoms of gonorrhoea on phone
 

What are the symptoms of gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is an infection caused by a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. In the past, gonorrhoea has sometimes been called ‘the clap’.

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), which means it is spread through close sexual contact. This includes vaginal, oral and anal sex. Gonorrhoea is most common in adults aged from 15 to 24 years old and is the second most common STI in the UK. STIs may also be called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) if they cause a long term health problem, such as HIV.

Gonorrhoea usually causes an infection in the genital area. The most common areas for gonorrhoea infection to develop are the cervix (entrance to the womb) and the urethra (the tube that pee passes through to leave your body). Gonorrhoea can also infect the rectum (back passage). More rarely, gonorrhoea can cause infection in the throat or eyes, leading to conjunctivitis. Gonorrhoea infection can also be passed during pregnancy from mother to child.

Using a condom when you have vaginal or anal sex can help reduce the spread of gonorrhoea. You can also use a condom, or a dental dam latex square to provide a barrier that can reduce the risk of spreading gonorrhoea during oral sex. You can catch gonorrhoea more than once, even if you have had successful treatment for a previous gonorrhoea infection.

What are the early signs of gonorrhoea?

The early signs of gonorrhoea are typically a change in discharge from the vagina or penis. Women may notice an increase in discharge, and discharge that looks green or yellow, or thin and watery. Men may notice an unusual green or yellow discharge from their penis.

There may be other early signs of gonorrhoea in the genital area such as pain when peeing, tenderness or itching, or pelvic pain.

Remember though, gonorrhoea does not always cause symptoms. If you think you might be at risk of gonorrhoea, for example, because you have had unprotected sex or your sexual partner has gonorrhoea, you should get tested. This is because if you have gonorrhoea you can pass it to a sexual partner even if you do not have any symptoms. Gonorrhoea can also lead to further health problems.

Gonorrhoea symptoms in men

The most common symptom of gonorrhoea in men is a green or yellow discharge from the penis.

Other common symptoms of gonorrhoea in men are:

  • pain when peeing (urinating)
  • soreness inside the penis
  • feeling like you need to pee more frequently
  • redness or swelling at the tip of the penis

Less common symptoms of gonorrhoea in men are:

  • discharge from the anus
  • pain, itching or bleeding from the anus

Rarely, men with gonorrhoea may notice pain or tenderness in their testicles.

Gonorrhoea in the throat does not usually cause symptoms, but may cause a sore throat and should still be treated.

Around 1 in 10 men with gonorrhoea will not have any symptoms of gonorrhoea.

Gonorrhoea symptoms in women

The most common symptom of gonorrhoea in women is a change in vaginal discharge that may look:

  • green or yellow in colour
  • thin and watery

Other common symptoms of gonorrhoea in women are:

  • pain when peeing (urinating)
  • pain or tenderness in the pelvic area or lower tummy (lower abdomen)

Less common symptoms of gonorrhoea in women are:

  • bleeding between periods
  • pain during sex

If you have gonorrhoea infection in your back passage you will not usually experience symptoms, but may notice some itching in your rectum.

If you have a gonorrhoea infection in your throat you will not usually experience symptoms, but may notice a sore throat.

Around half of women with gonorrhoea will not have any symptoms.

How is gonorrhoea diagnosed?

Gonorrhoea is diagnosed by a simple swab test for women or urine test for men.

To check if you have gonorrhoea, you can order a test from ZAVA which you can then do at home. You can order a different test if you have had unprotected anal sex. You can also speak to your doctor or visit a sexual health clinic to have a test for gonorrhoea. You may be advised to have a test for other sexually transmitted infections at the same time, such as chlamydia. The tests for gonorrhoea available from ZAVA will also check for chlamydia.

Your sexual partner or partners should also be tested for gonorrhoea. If you do want to contact your sexual partners, you can contact your sexual health clinic to contact them anonymously, or we can do this for you at ZAVA as long as you’ve tested positive with us.

If your test confirms that you have gonorrhoea, you may need to have a further test to check what treatment will be most appropriate for you. Your doctor or sexual health clinic will be able to advise you.

What treatment options are available for gonorrhoea?

Treatment options for gonorrhoea are antibiotics, usually given as an injection in the thigh or buttock. You can get treatment for gonorrhoea from your doctor, sexual health clinic, or GUM (genito urinary medicine) clinic. Your sexual partner should also be treated for gonorrhoea, even if they do not have symptoms.

If you have gonorrhoea or think you might have gonorrhoea, it’s important to get treated. This is because if gonorrhoea is untreated, it can lead to further complications. For example, if gonorrhoea is not treated in women it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

PID can cause long term pain and increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy (where a baby develops outside of the womb, usually in the fallopian tubes). In men, gonorrhoea can lead to an infection in the testicles. In both men and women, untreated gonorrhoea can lead to infertility.

Rarely, untreated gonorrhoea can lead to an infection of the blood (sepsis) which can spread to other parts of the body.

Before starting treatment, you will usually need to have a test to check if you have gonorrhoea. If your sexual partner has gonorrhoea, you may be advised to start treatment before waiting for test results.

Treatment is usually successful, and you should notice an improvement in any gonorrhoea symptoms after 2 or 3 days. Occasionally though, gonorrhoea may be resistant to treatment with antibiotics. You will usually need a follow up appointment one or two weeks after treatment to check that the treatment has worked. If the antibiotics have not worked, or if you think you may have caught gonorrhoea again, you may need to have another course of antibiotics.

You should avoid unprotected sex for at least 7 days after treatment and until you no longer have any symptoms of gonorrhoea.

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Medically reviewed by:
Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Expansion

Babak studied medicine at King’s College London and graduated in 2003, having also gained a bachelor’s degree in Physiology during his time there. He completed his general practice (GP) training in East London, where he worked for a number of years as a partner at a large inner-city GP practice. He completed the Royal College of GPs membership exam in 2007.

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Last reviewed: 28 Apr 2022

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