Gonorrhoea is another common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It affects men and women but can be treated effectively.
Here we’ll talk about the symptoms, treatment and prevention of gonorrhoea.
What are the symptoms of gonorrhoea?
Symptoms in men and women are slightly different and some people don’t get symptoms at all, which puts them at great risk of passing it on to a partner.
Most men have symptoms of gonorrhoea if they are infected. These include:
- Burning when passing urine
- Needing to pee more often
- A white, yellow or green discharge from the end of the penis
- A reddened, swollen urethral opening – where the tube carrying urine/sperm out of the body reaches the end of the penis (see the diagram)
- Tender, swollen testicles
- Sore throat symptom.
- Symptoms can take up to a month to appear.
Only about 50% of women have symptoms of gonorrhoea, and these include:
- Pain when having sex
- Vaginal discharge
- Burning/pain when passing urine
- Needing to pee more often
- Sore throat
- Pain in the lower belly
- Fever (these last 2 are symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can result from infection with gonorrhoea).
- Symptoms usually appear 2-5 days after you’ve become infected with gonorrhoea.
Even if you don’t have any symptoms, if you are told you’ve had sex with someone who has an STI, or suspect that you have an STI, you should talk to your doctor. The doctor will probably suggest that you are tested for other STIs as having one infection puts you at greater risk of having others.
What tests will the doctor do for gonorrhoea?
Samples of the discharge you’ve had and/or urine samples are taken and sent to the lab. The results should be sent back to the doctor’s office 24-72 hours later.
The same swabs and urine samples can be used to test for several STIs so you won’t need to give separate samples.
To make sure that people with gonorrhoea and their sexual partners are correctly treated, in the US your healthcare provider is required to inform the State Board of Health if you have gonorrhoea.
What is the treatment for gonorrhoea?
Gonorrhoea is caused by a bacteria so treatment is with an antibiotic. Always see your healthcare provider for treatment.
You will be given a large dose of one type of antibiotic and then have tablets to take for a week or so. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you have any allergies, and it’s important that you finish the course of meds you’ve been given. If the antibiotics aren’t finished the infection can come back and you can pass it on to others.
Don’t have sex (vaginal, oral or anal) while you’re having treatment or for 7 days after the treatment is completed.
Your doctor will probably want to see you when the antibiotic course has been completed to make sure that the infection has gone.
It is also important that your partner(s) are treated. They can be contacted by a specialist sexual health clinic so that your identity isn’t revealed if you prefer.
What causes gonorrhoea?
Gonorrhoea is caused by a bacteria called gonococcus. It lives and multiplies in warm, moist places such as the vagina and female urethra, the urethra of the penis and the mouth. It can even cause eye infections.
The bacteria are very easily passed on via sexual contact, either by oral, anal or vaginal sex.
Who gets gonorrhoea?
Men and women, gay and straight, who are sexually active and have sex with an infected partner.
Some people are more prone to getting gonorrhoea than others. These groups include:
- People who have more than one sexual partner – ie are not in an mutually monogamous relationship
- People who have had previous STIs
- People who don’t use condoms for disease prevention
- People who drink a lot of alcohol and/or use ‘recreational’ drugs.
What’s the outcome for people with gonorrhoea?
With early treatment, the infection should clear up without a problem. However it’s important to prevent re-infection as having gonorrhoea and being treated doesn’t make you immune from getting it again.
Women with gonorrhoea that isn’t treated or properly treated can face problems such as:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Problems with pregnancy including passing the infection to the baby while it’s in the womb or at birth.
In men, problems include:
- Scaring in the urethra which can make passing urine more difficult
How can I prevent gonorrhoea?
The only sure way to prevent gonorrhoea, as with other STIs, is to abstain from having sex.
See the gonorrhea fact sheet from Patient.co.uk.
If you’re worried about your symptoms or medical problem but don’t want to seek professional help because you feel embarrassed, silly or that it’s your fault in some way, read this page now: How to talk to a doctor about an embarrassing problem.