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Gonorrhea

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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Gonorrhea 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 of sex toys. Condoms help to prevent catching gonorrhea.

This may cause no noticeable symptoms, or it can cause a yellow/green, watery, or pus-like discharge from the penis, vagina, or rectum. 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) and eye symptoms (conjunctivitis) and, if left untreated, can cause infertility.

Given the high stakes and the fact that you may have no symptoms, it’s important to get tested regularly. This is especially important if you are 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?

Gonorrhea 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 gonorrhea 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 go to your sexual health clinic if you have symptoms, for an STI check-up, or if you have been informed a partner has gonorrhea – you will be treated regardless of the test outcome. At the clinic, women will be asked to take a vaginal swab from themselves – quick and painless – and men will be asked to pee in a cup 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 gonorrhea to show up on a test after unprotected sex, but you can get a test immediately and, if negative, follow it up two weeks later.

You must get retested two weeks later if you get a positive test and treatment. The usual antibiotics may not work on some sub-types of gonorrhea, in which case they will do further tests to determine 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 round of blood tests. Tell any sexual health clinic you are pregnant, as they will consider antibiotics 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.

Am I fit for work?

If you have symptoms or have been told to get treatment for an STI, you should prioritize this urgently, but you are likely to be 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 gonorrhea. You should be retested for gonorrhea if your symptoms have not subsided within a few days.

It’s important to tell any sexual partners within the previous 3 months of your positive test.

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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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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