First the Facts

  • Gonorrhoea is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Cases of gonorrhoea are increasing in the UK and often co-exist with other STIs (such as chlamydia)
  • It is possible to have gonorrhoea and not have any symptoms
  • If left untreated, it can cause long-term complications and you can pass it on to other people
  • If you have previously been treated for gonorrhoea, you will not be immune – you can get it again

How Is Gonorrhoea Transmitted?

  • By having unprotected sex with someone who has the infection
  • This person might not have any symptoms and might not know they have gonorrhoea
  • Anyone can have gonorrhoea – you do not need to have had a lot of partners
  • Transmission can be through vaginal, anal or oral sex. If you are pregnant, it is possible you could pass the infection to your baby
  • You cannot get gonorrhoea through the saliva (e.g. kissing or sharing cutlery), hugging, toilet seats, or sharing towels

How Will I Know If I Have Gonorrhoea?

The best way to find out is to take a test.
Many people have gonorrhoea and do not have any symptoms.

Possible symptoms if you have a penisPossible symptoms if you have a vaginaSymptoms of infection at other sites of the body
• Discharge from the tip of the penis
• Pain when passing urine
• Pain or tenderness in the testicles (less common)
• Unusual vaginal discharge
• Pain when passing urine
• Lower abdominal / pelvic pain
• Heavier or more painful periods, bleeding between periods or bleeding after sex (less common)
• Rectal infection: Usually no symptoms, but you may experience anal discharge and/or pain.
• Throat infection: Usually no symptoms, but you may experience a sore throat.
• Eye infection (conjunctivitis): Pain, discharge, swelling of the eye(s).

How Can I Protect Myself?

  • The use of condoms for vaginal and anal sex and condoms or dental dams for oral sex can help to prevent transmission
  • If you want to stop using condoms with a new partner, you can both take a test and show each other the results
  • If you have had unprotected sex with a new partner, you should both get tested so that you can be treated if necessary

Where and When Can I Get a Test?

  • You should take a test if:
    • You have a new partner
    • You have had unprotected sex
    • A partner has told you they have gonorrhoea
    • You have any of the symptoms listed above
    • You have had treatment for gonorrhoea – you need a test to check the infection has gone
  • You can take a test at:
    • A sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic
    • A young person’s / contraception clinic
    • You can order a postal kit online (these are usually free)
    • Your GP

If you have symptoms you should attend a sexual health or GUM clinic. 

  • It can take up to two weeks after sexual contact for a test to show an infection; however, you should still be tested as soon as possible. If this is negative, you may be advised to take a further test two weeks later.
  • In those with a vagina, a test is a self-taken swab of the lower part of the vagina.
  • In those with a penis, a test is a urine sample. If there is discharge, a swab may be taken.
  • If indicated, you may need a swab from your throat and/or rectum.

What Happens If I Have Gonorrhoea?

  • You will receive antibiotic treatment
  • You might need a further test at this time to confirm the initial test result and check which antibiotic will work best but your treatment will be started whilst awaiting this result
  • You will also be offered testing for other STIs if you have not already had this
  • You must tell your partner, as they will need to be tested and possibly treated as well
  • Do not have sex until you have completed your treatment, as you risk passing the infection back and forth. A condom can split, so it is better to not have sex at all for this time.
  • You will need a further test after the treatment to make sure the infection has gone

What If I Don’t Get Treated for Gonorrhoea?

  • If it is not treated, gonorrhoea can spread to other parts of the body.
  • In those with a womb: It can spread to the womb and cause a pelvic infection. This may lead to difficulty conceiving a baby or chronic pain later in life.
  • In those with a penis: It can spread to the tubing around the testicle and to the prostate gland.
  • Gonorrhoea can also spread through the bloodstream to the joints, causing a painful arthritis, and to the skin and eyes.


Written by: Dr Nikki Kersey and Dr Paula Briggs
Last updated: January 2021

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