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Find out about the symptoms, causes and treatment of gonorrhoea.

Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the UK and can lead to infertility.

Signs and symptoms of gonorrhoea

Half of women with gonorrhoea and 1 in 10 men don’t have any obvious signs or symptoms at all, so even if you don’t have any symptoms it’s really important you go to be tested for STIs if you’ve had unprotected sex.

Symptoms of gonorrhoea usually develop within 1 to 14 days but for some people, it can be months later. 

If you have symptoms, you might notice:

  • Increased discharge from the vagina, often green or yellow in colour 
  • Fluid coming out of the penis often green or yellow in colour 
  • A pain or burning feeling when peeing 
  • Pain or tenderness in the lower abdomen (tummy) 
  • Bleeding between periods or after sex 
  • Pain or tenderness in the testicles 

Gonorrhoea can also infect the rectum, throat and eyes:

  • Throat – no symptoms
  • Rectum – pain, discomfort or discharge
  • Eyes – conjunctivitis


If you leave gonorrhoea untreated it can spread to other parts of your body and can cause infertility in men and women.

The causes and spread of gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoea or gonococcus found in semen and vaginal fluid of people who have the infection. It is passed from one person to another through: 

It is not clear if gonorrhoea can be passed on by transferring fluids on the fingers or by rubbing the female genitals together.

You cannot get gonorrhoea from kissing, hugging, sharing baths or towels, swimming pools, toilet seats or from sharing cups, plates or cutlery.

Gonorrhoea can also be passed from mother to baby during birth but can be treated during pregnancy with antibiotics.

Testing for gonorrhoea

If you’ve had unprotected sex, or you have symptoms of an STI, you should get tested. Accurate results should appear two weeks after unprotected sex. 

Testing for gonorrhoea is done with either a urine test or a swab test depending on your anatomy and symptoms. 

Swab test:

  • The swab (looks like a small cotton bud) collects a sample from inside the vagina or from the tip of the penis.
  • Very often you can take the swab from inside the vagina yourself.
  • If you have had oral or anal sex then a swab may be taken from either your throat or rectum.
  • Taking the swabs may be slightly uncomfortable but should not be painful.
  • People with a penis may be asked to provide a urine sample – the clinic will advise you.

If there is a high chance that you have gonorrhoea (for example if your partner has tested positive), you may be given treatment before the results are back.

Gonorrhoea testing is free and you can get one at Brook services, GUM or sexual health clinics or at some GP surgeries. Find your nearest using our find a service tool. It is also possible to buy gonorrhoea self-tests or you may be able to access free tests to do at home. Cervical smear tests and routine blood tests will not detect gonorrhoea.

Find out how to get a free at home STI testing kit

Treatment of gonorrhoea

In most cases treatment involves a single antibiotic injection.

You will be advised to return for a repeat test two – four weeks later to ensure you are clear of gonorrhoea.

If you had symptoms, you should notice improvements quite quickly. You should go back to where you had your test if:

  • The symptoms don’t improve within a week
  • You have unprotected sex again
  • You had unprotected sex with your partner before the treatment was finished
  • You did not follow the instructions or complete the treatment
  • The test was negative but you develop signs and symptoms of gonorrhoea

You should also avoid having sex until you have been given the all-clear, to prevent you being re-infected or passing the infection on.

Tell your previous partners

It is important that you tell any sexual partners from the last three months that you are being treated for gonorrhoea, so that they go for testing and or treatment too. 

Some clinics may also offer to contact your partner using partner notification. This will warn them they may have been exposed to an STI and to recommend they get tested but it doesn’t mention your name.

Super gonorrhoea

Reports have suggested that there is a ‘super-strain’ of gonorrhoea. The Chief Medical Officer warned that this could lead to gonorrhoea becoming untreatable, due to the infection becoming resistant to certain antibiotics. All GPs and pharmacies are aware of this strain of gonorrhoea to ensure the correct antibiotics are being prescribed.

To protect yourself from gonorrhoea and other STIs you should use a condom every time you have sex, and if you have had unprotected sexual contact get tested for STIs.

Find out about condoms

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