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What is it?

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection. It's caused by a bacteria found mainly in semen and vaginal fluids.

How's it transmitted?

Gonorrhoea is usually passed from one person to another during vaginal, oral or anal sex, or by sharing sex toys. It can live inside the cells of the cervix, the urethra, the rectum, the throat and, occasionally, the eyes.

Gonorrhoea can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby.

What are the symptoms?



About 50 per cent of women and 10 per cent of men who are infected will not have any obvious signs or symptoms.

Symptoms can appear any time from one to 14 days after coming into contact with gonorrhoea, or many months later, or not until the infection spreads to other parts of you body.

Women might notice:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge - this may be thin, watery, yellow or green
  • Pain when urinating
  • Lower abdominal pain or tenderness
  • Bleeding between periods

Men might notice:

  • Unusual discharge from the tip of the penis - this may be white, yellow or green, and there may be inflammation of the foreskin
  • Pain when urinating
  • Painful or tender testicles

If the infection is in the rectum or eye, you may experience discomfort, pain or discharge. Gonorrhoea in the throat usually has no symptoms.

What's the treatment?

It's important to be tested quickly if you think you might have gonorrhoea. Testing's free on the NHS from genitourinary medicine clinics, sexual health clinics, some contraception clinics and your GP.

The test for gonorrhoea is simple and painless. Either a urine test is done or a swab (like a cotton bud) is used to take a sample of cells from the vagina or urethra. If you've had anal or oral sex, a swab will be taken from your rectum or throat. Your eyes will be tested if you have conjunctivitis (discharge from the eye).

Gonorrhoea is easy to treat with a single dose of antibiotics, either by tablets or injection. The antibiotics used to treat gonorrhoea interact with the combined oral contraceptive pill and the contraceptive patch making them less effective, so check this with your doctor or nurse.

To avoid reinfection, any sexual partners should be treated too. If complications occur, another treatment might be needed.

What happens if it isn't treated?Without treatment, the infection can spread to other parts of the body causing damage and long-term health problems, including infertility.

In women, gonorrhoea can spread to the reproductive organs causing pelvic inflammatory disease. This can lead to:

  • Long-term pelvic pain
  • Ectopic pregnancy (when a pregnancy develops outside the womb, usually in the fallopian tube)
  • Blocked fallopian tubes (the tubes that carry the egg from ovary to womb)

In men, gonorrhoea can lead to painful infection in the testicles and the prostate gland. It may reduce fertility.

Less commonly, gonorrhoea can cause inflammation of the joints and tendons. Rarely, it can cause inflammation of the brain, spinal cord and heart.

Advice and support

Go to your GP, a genitourinary medicine clinic or a sexual health clinic. All services are confidential.

You can call fpa's helpline on 0845 122 8690.

Article originally published by the BBC based on information from the FPA