What is Gonorrhoea?

What is Gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It is the second most common STI in the UK and is sometimes referred to as 'the clap'. Gonorrhoea is passed on through having unprotected sex, oral sex, anal sex and by sharing sex toys. The bacteria of gonorrhoea lives in the cervix, the urethra, the rectum, the throat and occasionally the eyes.

In 2023, data from Public Health England revealed a 7.5% rise in new diagnoses, compared to 2022 with cases increasing from 79,268 to 85,223. The number of gonorrhoea diagnoses was the largest annual number reported since records began in 1918. One of the reasons for this is that gonorrhoea has started to become resistant to the antibiotics that are used to treat the infection with reports of a new super-strain of gonorrhoea on the rise.

Let’s find out more about the symptoms of gonorrhoea, the treatment that’s needed as well as how to protect yourself from catching this common STI.

What are the symptoms of Gonorrhoea?

Some people may not show any signs of gonorrhoea (60% of men and 80% of women have no symptoms) but if you do have symptoms, they tend to develop within 14 days.

Symptoms of gonorrhoea in the penis:

  • Thin, watery green or yellow discharge coming from the tip of the penis
  • Pain or burning when passing urine
  • Lower abdominal pain 
  • Swelling of the foreskin
  • Pain in the testicles

Symptoms of gonorrhoea in the vagina:

  • Thin, watery green or yellow discharge coming from the vagina
  • Pain or burning when passing urine
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Bleeding between periods or after sex 

Gonorrhoea in the throat is mostly symptom-free

Gonorrhoea in the rectum is mostly symptom-free but you could experience discomfort or discharge from the rectum.

If you’re pregnant, you may pass the infection to your baby during delivery and the baby could develop conjunctivitis.

How is gonorrhoea tested?

If you have a vagina, a doctor or nurse may perform an internal examination and either take a swab or you may be asked to do a self-taken swab using a small cotton bud around the inside of your vagina.

If you have a penis, you may be asked to either provide a urine sample or a swab may be taken from the entrance of your urethra (the tube where urine comes out from). 

If you’ve had anal or oral sex, your rectum or throat may also be swabbed.

Man swabbing throat

If you have symptoms of conjunctivitis, a sample of discharge from your eye will be collected from a swab.

How is gonorrhoea treated? 

Gonorrhoea is treated with two types of antibiotics, (azithromycin and ceftriaxone) usually given as a single dose of tablets and an injection. Gonorrhoea treatment is free from any sexual health clinic or at some GP surgeries. Anyone you’ve had sex with will also need to be checked and treated (but don’t worry the clinic can do that anonymously if needed). You’ll also need a follow up test between 1-2 weeks after finishing the treatment to check the infection has gone.


If gonorrhoea is left untreated, what will happen?

If gonorrhoea is left untreated, it can cause serious problems, including infertility in men and women. Women can also get Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) which can lead to long-term pelvic pain and blocked fallopian tubes. 

What is super gonorrhoea?

Recently, a strain of super gonorrhoea has been on the rise in the UK. This super-strain has become resistant to one of the two antibiotics that are used to treat the infection (the other one is fine at the moment). This is why it’s never been more important to wear a condom when having sex.

How can I protect myself from catching gonorrhoea? 

Condoms! Condoms reduce the risk of catching sexually transmitted infections by preventing any sexual fluids from being transferred. By using a condom (or dam) every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex reduces the risk of contracting an STI. We have a wide variety of condoms available from regular, king, extra king or trim as well as flavoured and fun condoms so there’s plenty of variety available. Unsure which condom to choose? Open this link 'in a new window' here What type of condom should I buy?

As well as ensuring you or your partner wear condoms, getting a sexual health screen on a regular basis (we recommend annually or on change of a sexual partner) will help reduce the risk of catching and passing the infection on. 

To find out more about gonorrhoea, go to NHS UK 

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