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Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus. It used to be known as 'the clap'.
The bacteria are mainly found in discharge from the penis and in vaginal fluid.
Gonorrhea is easily passed between people through:
The bacteria can infect the cervix (entrance to the womb), the urethra (tube through which urine passes out of the body), the rectum, and less commonly the throat or eyes.
The infection can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. If you're pregnant and may have gonorrhea, it's important to get tested and treated before your baby is born. Without treatment, gonorrhea can cause permanent blindness in a newborn baby.
Gonorrhea isn't spread by kissing, hugging, sharing baths or towels, swimming pools, toilet seats, or sharing cups, plates and cutlery, because the bacteria can't survive outside the human body for long.
Typical symptoms of gonorrhea include a thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis, pain when urinating and (in women) bleeding between periods.
However, around 1 in 10 infected men and almost half of infected women don't experience any symptoms.
Read more about the symptoms of gonorrhea.
If you have any of the symptoms of gonorrhea, or you're worried you may have an STI, you should visit a sexual health clinic for a sexual health test.
Gonorrhea can be easily diagnosed by testing a sample of discharge picked up using a swab. Testing a sample of urine can also be used to diagnose the condition in men.
It's important to get tested as soon as possible, because gonorrhea can lead to more serious long-term health problems if it's not treated, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, or infertility.
Gonorrhea is usually treated with a single antibiotic injection and a single antibiotic tablet. With effective treatment, most of your symptoms should improve within a few days.
It's usually recommended that you attend a follow-up appointment a week or two after treatment, so another test can be carried out to see if you're clear of infection.
You should avoid having sex until you've been given the all-clear.
Read more about how gonorrhea is treated.
Anyone who's sexually active can catch gonorrhea, especially people who change partners frequently or don't use a barrier method of contraception , such as a condom, when having sex.
Previous successful treatment for gonorrhea doesn't make you immune to catching the infection again.
Gonorrhea and other STIs can be successfully prevented by using appropriate contraception and taking other precautions, such as:
If you're worried you may have an STI, visit a sexual health clinic for advice.
Gonorrhea is usually treated with a short course of antibiotics.
Treatment is recommended if:
In most cases, treatment involves having a single antibiotic injection (usually in the buttocks or thigh) followed by one antibiotic tablet. It's sometimes possible to have another antibiotic tablet instead of an injection, if you prefer.
If you have any symptoms of gonorrhea, these will usually improve within a few days, although it may take up to two weeks for any pain in your pelvis or testicles to go away completely. Bleeding between periods or heavy periods should improve by the time of your next period.
Attending a follow-up appointment a week or two after treatment is usually recommended, so another test can be carried out to see if you're clear of infection.
You should avoid having sex until you (and your partner) have been treated and given the all clear, to prevent reinfection or passing the infection on to anyone else.
If your symptoms don't improve after treatment or you think you've been infected again, see your doctor. Treatment may need to be repeated, or you may need further tests to check for other problems.
Gonorrhea is easily passed on through intimate sexual contact. If you're diagnosed with it, anyone you've recently had sex with may have it too. It's important that your current partner and any other recent sexual partners are tested and treated.
Symptoms of gonorrhea usually develop within about two weeks of being infected, although they sometimes don't appear until many months later.
About 1 in 10 infected men and half of infected women won't experience any obvious symptoms, which means the condition can go untreated for some time.
In women, symptoms of gonorrhea can include:
In men, symptoms of gonorrhea can include:
Both men and women can develop an infection in the rectum, eyes or throat by having unprotected anal or oral sex. If infected semen or vaginal fluid comes into contact with the eyes, you can also develop conjunctivitis.
Infection in the rectum can cause discomfort, pain or discharge. Infection in the eyes can cause irritation, pain, swelling and discharge. Infection in the throat usually causes no symptoms.
It's important to be tested for gonorrhea if you think there's a chance you're infected, even if you have no obvious symptoms or the symptoms have gone away on their own.
If gonorrhea is left undiagnosed and untreated, you can continue to spread the infection and there is a risk of potentially serious complications, including infertility.
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The only way to find out if you have gonorrhea is to be tested. If you suspect gonorrhea or any other sexually transmitted infection (STI), it's important not to delay getting tested.
You can be tested even if you don't have any symptoms.
Early diagnosis and treatment of gonorrhea reduces the risk of any complications developing, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or infection in the testicles. Complications that arise from long-term infection are much more difficult to treat.
It's recommended you get tested if:
There are many different ways to test for gonorrhea. In many cases, a swab will be used to remove a sample for testing, although men may only be asked to provide a urine sample.
A swab is wiped over parts of the body that may be infected to pick up samples of discharge. This only takes a few seconds and isn't painful, although it may be a little uncomfortable.
The different tests that may be used to detect gonorrhea in men and women are described below.
For women, a doctor will usually take a swab to collect a sample from the vagina or cervix (entrance to the womb) during an internal examination. In some cases, a sample may also be taken from the urethra (tube that carries urine out of the body).
Sometimes you may be asked to use a swab or tampon to collect a sample from inside your vagina yourself.
Women aren't usually asked to provide a urine sample to check for gonorrhea, because this is a less accurate test for women.
Men will normally be asked to provide a urine sample, or a swab may be used to remove a sample of discharge from the end of the penis.
If you're asked to provide a urine sample, it's important not to urinate for about two hours beforehand, because this can wash the bacteria away and affect the results of the test.
If there's a possibility that your rectum or throat is infected, the doctor may need to use a swab to collect a sample from these areas.
If you have symptoms of conjunctivitis, such as red, inflamed eyes with discharge, a sample of the discharge may be collected from your eye.
Some clinics may be able to carry out rapid tests, when the doctor can view the sample through a microscope and give you your test results straight away. Otherwise, you'll have to wait to get the results.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.