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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Gonorrhoea is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a bacteria called Neisseria Gonorrhoeae. This can easily pass from person to person via unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex, or sharing sex toys. Condoms help to prevent catching gonorrhoea.

This may cause no noticeable symptoms, or it can cause a yellow/green watery or pus-like discharge from the penis, vagina or rectum (back passage). It may cause pain on peeing, for women pain during sex, bleeding after sex or bleeding between periods, and for men, pain in the testicles. It can cause joint inflammation (reactive arthritis), eye symptoms (conjunctivitis) and, if left untreated, can cause infertility.

Given the high stakes and the fact that you may have no symptoms at all, it’s important to get tested regularly. This is especially important if you are aged 16 to 25, as this is the highest-risk age group. Get an STI test at the change of any partner (use condoms until you both get the all-clear) and at least once a year.

Doctor’s advice

Is it contagious?

Gonorrhoea is highly contagious, and you should get tested and treated. Wearing condoms for vaginal, anal and oral sex will protect you.

A positive test can sometimes be a surprise, but it’s not always easy to say when and from whom you contracted gonorrhoea if you’ve had more than one partner – you may have no symptoms or they may take weeks or months to emerge.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your sexual health clinic if you have symptoms, for an STI check-up, or if you have been informed a partner has gonorrhoea – you will be treated regardless of the test outcome. At the clinic, women will be asked to take a vaginal swab from themselves – this is quick and painless – and men will be asked to pee in a pot at least an hour after they last passed urine. This tests for chlamydia, another common STI, at the same time.

It can take up to two weeks for gonorrhoea to show up on a test after unprotected sex, but you can get a test straight away and, if negative, follow it up two weeks later.

If you get a positive test and treatment, it’s really important to get retested two weeks later. The usual antibiotics may not work on some sub-types of gonorrhoea, in which case they will do further tests to get the correct antibiotic to treat your infection.

If you are pregnant, it is especially important to get tested and treated, as this can pass to your baby during birth and infect their eyes. This is usually part of the routine screening in the first raft of blood tests from the midwives. Tell any sexual health clinic you are pregnant, as they will consider antibiotics that are safe in pregnancy.

Any other symptoms or risk factors will be considered at the clinic, and other tests may be offered, including HIV, syphilis and possibly hepatitis B.

Pharmacist recommended products

Am I fit for work?

If you have symptoms or have been told to get treatment for a STI, you should prioritise this urgently, but it’s likely you are fit for work.

What will treatment involve?

Treatment is quick and simple – a short course of antibiotic tablets. You must avoid sex or use condoms for 7 days after you and your partner have been treated, as you can get re-infected with gonorrhoea, and you don’t need a second test to check the infection has cleared, the antibiotics are a reliable treatment.

It’s really important to tell any sexual partners within the previous 3 months of your positive test – the clinic can help to send anonymous messages if that makes it easier.

Discharge or pain when you pee should clear up within days of treatment, testicular or pelvic pain may take a couple of weeks, and vaginal bleeding may take until the next cycle to improve. If you still have symptoms, return to the sexual health clinic or see your doctor to consider other causes.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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