Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by a bacterium called neisseria gonorrheoae or gonococcus. It is passed from person to person through sexual activity including intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, intimate physical contact, sharing vibrators or other sex toys, or from mother to baby during birth.


Gonorrhoea is the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK and the number of cases is rising every year. Young men aged 20-24 years and women between the ages of 16 and 19 are most commonly affected.


Around half of women and one in ten men who have contracted gonorrhoea do not experience any symptoms, which means it can often go untreated for some time. This can cause serious health problems in later life, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can be very unpleasant causing abdominal pain, tenderness and fever. If left untreated it may lead to infertility or ectopic pregnancy (women), and pain and swelling of the testicles or prostate gland (men).




Up to half of all women who contract gonorrhoea do not experience any symptoms.However, those who do may notice:


A strong, unpleasant smelling discharge from the vagina, which may appear green or yellow in colour.


Pain or tenderness in the lower abdominal area, including a burning sensation when peeing. Irritation or discharge from the anus.


Around 90% of men who contract gonorrhoea experience symptoms such as: A white, yellow or green-coloured discharge from the tip of the penis.


Pain or tenderness caused by inflammation of the testicles or prostate gland.


Pain or burning sensation when peeing.


Irritation or discharge from the anus.


Symptoms in both men and women usually appear between one and fourteen days after infection.




Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection that is passed on during sexual contact or from mother to baby during birth. It can be contracted by both men and women and may affect the vagina or penis, the anus, rectum, throat and eyes. It is easily passed on from person to person and can also be spread to other parts of the body, for example from the genitals to the anus.


Anyone who is sexually active can contract gonorrhoea, especially those who change partners frequently or do not use a barrier method of contraception, such as a condom, when having sexual intercourse. Gonorrhoea cannot be transmitted through casual contact such as in swimming pools, from toilet seats or in saunas.


Women with gonorrhoea can also pass the infection onto their baby during birth. This can result in an infection of the babys eyes that may lead to blindness if left untreated.




If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of gonorrhoea, you should visit your GP or local GUM (genito-urinary medicine) clinic. Some Family Planning Clinics may also provide testing for sexually transmitted infections.


The doctor will take a culture (sample) from the penis or cervix (neck of the womb) and send it to a laboratory where it will be tested for the bacterium neisseria gonorrhoeae. Some clinics may be able to carry out rapid diagnostic tests, when the doctor can view the sample through a microscope to find the bacterium. The test itself is painless but may feel a little uncomfortable.


A patient who has suspected gonorrhoea should also be tested for evidence of other sexually transmitted infections.




It is important to receive treatment for gonorrhoea as quickly as possible, as the disease can cause complications and serious health problems such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) if it is left untreated. It is also important that all the patients current and recent sexual partners are tested and treated for the disease if necessary.


Gonorrhoea is treated with a single dose of antibiotics, usually penicillin, ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin or ampicillin, taken orally (swallowed). If the condition does not clear up after treatment by traditional antibiotics, your doctor may prescribe stronger variations such as quinolene, ceftriaxone, cefotaxime or spectinomycin. Treatment at a GUM clinic is free of charge and totally independent of your GP if you wish.


Babies who show signs of a gonorrhoeal infection at birth (e.g. such as inflammation of the eyes) or who are at increased risk of infection (the mother has been diagnosed with gonorrhoea), will usually be given antibiotics immediately after birth to prevent blindness and other complications.



The most effective way to reduce the risk of gonoccocal infection is to use a barrier method of contraception such as a condom. If used correctly, male and female condoms are over 99% effective in preventing sexually transmitted infections. Women can have antibiotic treatment for gonorrhoea while pregnant to prevent passing the infection onto their baby.


This has been adapted from ‘Sexual Health Birmingham’ the authors are Dr S Acharya & Dr J Arumainayagam.

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