Around 1 in 10 men and half of all infected women do not experience any symptoms of Gonorrhoea. Gonorrhoea is the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK. 2017 saw 44,676 diagnoses of Gonorrhoea; this is a 22% increase in comparison to the year before. This STI is passed on through unprotected oral, vaginal and anal intercourse. You will not always notice any signs of a Gonorrhoea infection, but you can still transmit the STI to others if you have sex without a condom.

In 2018, a man from the East Midlands was diagnosed with the world’s worst case of Gonorrhoea. He was prescribed with two first-line antibiotics to fight the infection, but the treatment was unable to cure him. He was eventually admitted into hospital where he received an infusion of antibiotics that were injected into his system over the course of three days.

Mark Lawton, spokesman for the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) and a consultant in sexual health in Liverpool, said:

“We need to be ready for the next wave of resistance. We’ve seen one case and it will only be a matter of time before we see more.”

He goes on to explain that Gonorrhoea can affect other areas of the body, including the throat, joints, and even the eyes. This is just one reason for the bacteria to develop a resistance.

“If you get it in the back of the throat the Gonorrhoea can acquire resistance from other bacteria in the back of the throat and swap genetic material,” Dr Lawton said.

Detecting Gonorrhoea

Doctors are tasked with diagnosing Gonorrhoea by just looking for symptoms. However, even if symptoms of Gonorrhoea are present, they can often be similar to other STIs. If doctors make a wrong diagnosis, and the infection is due to Chlamydia or another sexually transmitted infection, it increases the chance of overusing new antibiotics and making them less effective.

Mike Asher, CEO and Director of Better2Know, emphasises the importance of Gonorrhoea testing:

“The only reliable way to correctly diagnose Gonorrhoea or any STI is by testing. A test result will indicate what the infection is and the right medications can then be administered reducing the possibility of antibiotic resistance developing.” 

Gonorrhoea symptoms in men vs women

If signs of a Gonorrhoea infection are present, you can experience symptoms between 1 and 14 days after you have been infected. In some cases, you may not suffer from any symptoms until months later, or until the infection has spread to other parts of your body.

Gonorrhoea can also affect other parts of your body including your throat, rectum and eyes. The throat and rectal regions often show no symptoms. You may experience anal discomfort or discharge. Gonorrhoea can cause conjunctivitis if your eyes become infected. Symptoms of a Gonorrhoea eye infection can include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Irritation
  • Discharge

Symptoms of Gonorrhoea in women

  • Pain when urinating
  • Thin, watery, green or yellow vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods or heavier periods
  • Lower abdominal pain or tenderness

Symptoms of Gonorrhoea in men

  • Pain when urinating
  • White, green or yellow discharge from the penis
  • Pain or tenderness in the testicles

Gonorrhoea without treatment

In circumstances where you are not tested for Gonorrhoea and therefore do not receive treatment, the infection can spread to other parts of your body. This can cause long-term health complications.

Untreated Gonorrhoea in women

For women, if you do not get treated for Gonorrhoea, the infection could spread to your reproductive organs causing a condition called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). This can lead to blocked fallopian tubes, long-term pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancies and infertility.

Untreated Gonorrhoea in men

For men, untreated Gonorrhoea can result in a painful infection in the testicles, as well as reduced fertility.

In some cases, Gonorrhoea can cause pain and inflammation of your joints and tendons, as well as skin lesions. The more times you get infected with Gonorrhoea, the more likely you are to have complications. Also, if you have been cured of Gonorrhoea in the past, it does not make you immune. You can become re-infected.

Gonorrhoea testing

You may neglect your sexual health due to reasons such as being in a committed long-term relationship, or generally thinking you are not risk of catching an STI.

A recent Better2Know patient decided to get tested simply because their friend had been diagnosed with Gonorrhoea. Despite having no symptoms and having only had two relationships in the past couple of years, their friend’s positive Gonorrhoea result was enough to make them realise a test was the right thing to do. Fortunately, their test was negative, but this experience demonstrated the importance of regular testing.

As mentioned earlier, Gonorrhoea symptoms may not be present in the early stages of an infection and can sometimes occur months or even years later. You can also still have Gonorrhoea even if your partner tested negative.

Gonorrhoea is not limited to your genital area. You could also suffer from a throat or rectal infection. You will only be sure whether or not you have this STI by getting tested.

You should have a Gonorrhoea test if:

  • You have recently had unprotected sex with a new partner
  • You, or a sexual partner, are experience symptoms of Gonorrhoea
  • A sexual partner tells you they have Gonorrhoea or another STI
  • You have tested positive for a different sexually transmitted infection

You should not have any sexual contact until your follow up test for Gonorrhoea comes back negative. You are advised to take another Gonorrhoea test two weeks after your treatment has finished as a test-of-cure.

There are different tests for Gonorrhoea. Some use a swab sample and others use a urine sample to detect infection. For swab samples, this will only take a few seconds and is not painful – though it can be uncomfortable.

Gonorrhoea test for women

  • Your doctor or nurse may collect a swab sample from your vagina, cervix or urethra
  • A swab of your throat, rectum or eyes can be arranged
  • For some tests, you can provide a urine sample. You are advised not to urinate two hours prior to your Gonorrhoea urine test

Gonorrhoea test for men

  • Men usually provide a urine sample when testing for Gonorrhoea
  • Your nurse or doctor may take a swab sample of the discharge from the end of your penis for testing
  • If you are worried about a Gonorrhoea infection in your throat, rectum or eyes, a swab sample can be taken from these areas

Where can I get tested?

You can get tested for Gonorrhoea with your local GP or sexual health/GUM clinic. You may also choose to visit a private sexual health clinic, or a contraceptive and young person’s clinic.

Gonorrhoea home tests are also available, where you personally collect your samples in the comfort and privacy of your own home.

Some clinics provide rapid Gonorrhoea testing so you will receive accurate, instant results.

Find out more with Better2Know’s Gonorrhoea Factsheet


[1] BBC: Man has ‘world’s worst’ super-gonorrhoea

[2] FPA: Gonorrhoea

[3] Gonorrhoea: guidance, data and analysis

[4] NHS: Gonorrhoea

[5] Sexwise (FPA): Gonorrhoea

[6] The Telegraph: Beware super-gonorrhoea: the gift nobody wants at Christmas

[7] The Telegraph: UK pledges £5m to fight ‘super gonorrhoea’

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