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Gonorrhoea

Gonorrheoa bacteria

What is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus.

Did you know? Unsafe sex also puts you at risk of HIV

How do you get gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is passed on through unprotected sex (sex without a condom) or by sharing sex toys.

Safer sex is the best way to prevent gonorrhoea. This means using a condom every time you have sex (vaginal, anal or oral). A dental dam can be used to cover the female genitals during oral sex. Any sex toys should be covered with a condom and washed after use. Make sure to change condoms between partners.1

If you are worried about gonorrhoea, or have had unprotected sex - get tested.

What does gonorrhoea look like?

Gonorrhoea symptoms normally appear within 10 days of infection but they can occur many months later. Roughly 10% of men and 50% of women will not experience any symptoms at all.2

In women, symptoms include:

  • unusual discharge from the vagina that is thick and green or yellow in colour
  • pain when urinating
  • pain in the lower abdomen
  • bleeding between periods and/or heavy periods
  • bleeding after sex - this is rare.

Men may experience:

  • unusual discharge from the tip of the penis that may be white, yellow or green in colour
  • pain when urinating
  • inflammation or swelling of the foreskin
  • pain in the testicles - this is rare.

Infected semen or vaginal fluid in the eyes can cause inflammation of the eye (conjunctivitis). Unprotected anal or oral sex can lead to infection and symptoms in the rectum (discomfort, pain, bleeding or discharge) or throat (normally no symptoms).3

You can't diagnose gonorrhoea by looking at pictures because symptoms vary from person to person. If you think you have gonorrhoea, see your doctor or healthcare worker.

Can I get tested for gonorrhoea?

The only way to know if you have gonorrhoea or any other STI is to get tested.

In women, a doctor or healthcare worker may take a swab from either the cervix or the vagina. Men are usually asked for a urine sample. If you have had anal or oral sex you may also be offered a swab test taken from the rectum or throat.

Some clinics carry out rapid tests meaning you can get your test results straight away. Otherwise, it can take up to two weeks to get your results.4 5

How is gonorrhoea treated?

Treatment for gonorrhoea consists of a short course of antibiotics. It normally involves an antibiotic injection (in the buttocks or thigh) and a single dose of antibiotic tablet. Sometimes it is possible to have another antibiotic tablet instead of an injection.6

Do not have unprotected sex until you have finished treatment and make sure your current partner and other recent sexual partners are also tested and treated.

What happens if I don't get treatment for gonorrhoea?

Without treatment, gonorrhoea can cause other health problems. For example, gonorrhoea puts you at risk of other STIs, including HIV.

Other potential issues to be aware of in women include:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) - an infection of the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. PID is estimated to occur in 10-20% of untreated gonorrhoea cases. PID can be treated with antibiotics
  • During pregnancy, gonorrhoea can cause miscarriage and premature labour. The baby can also be born with conjunctivitis. If this is the case, the baby must be treated with antibiotics.7 8

And in men:

  • Gonorrhoea can cause inflammation of the tube at the back of the testicle that stores and carries sperm causing swelling and tenderness in the scrotum (epididymitis). If left untreated, it can lead to infertility9

 In rare cases, untreated gonorrhoea can spread to other parts of the body causing:

  • inflammation and swelling of joints and tendons
  • skin irritation and redness
  • inflammation around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or the heart.10

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/xrender

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Last updated:
25 November 2015
Last full review:
01 May 2015