Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

Medically reviewed

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It used to be called 'the clap.' Read about the causes, symptoms and treatment.

How common is gonorrhoea?

Like many other STIs, gonorrhoea rates are rising in many parts of the world.

According to the World Health Organization, there were over 82.4 million cases of gonorrhoea worldwide in 2020.

Both men and women can get gonorrhoea. In the UK it’s most common in people aged 15-24 years old.

How is gonorrhoea spread?

Gonorrhoea is spread through unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex with an infected partner. It’s highly contagious, and you can catch it by exchanging bodily fluids (for instance sharing sex toys) and through contact with mucous membranes.

Gonorrhoea can also be passed from mother to baby during delivery and can cause an eye infection.

What are the symptoms of gonorrhoea?

If you’re infected, you may not experience any symptoms of gonorrhoea. Around 10% of men and 50% of women are ‘asymptomatic’. 

Symptoms in men

In men, symptoms of gonorrhoea can include:

  • Putrid greenish-yellow discharge from the penis

  • Trouble peeing

  • Severe burning sensation when peeing

  • Irritation in the penis

  • Pain or swelling in the testicles

  • Rectal pain or discharge

If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your partner/s. It’s possible that they may be an asymptomatic carrier.

Most men will experience symptoms, but about 10% of men will experience nothing.

Symptoms in women

Around 50% of infected women won’t experience any symptoms of gonorrhoea.

When symptoms exist, they can often be confused with a UTI or vaginal infection:

  • Putrid yellowish, sometimes bloody, vaginal discharge

  • Vulva irritation

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding

  • Heaviness or pain in the pelvic area

  • Pain during sex

  • Burning sensation when peeing, and trouble peeing

How do I get tested for gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea may be suspected based on symptoms or a medical examination. A GP may suggest that you are seen by a specialist sexual health clinic for further investigation and treatment. 

Because you may not have any symptoms, you might not know that you’re infected. That’s why regular gonorrhoea screening is recommended even for asymptomatic people.

Gonorrhoea and chlamydia infections can, and often do, occur together.

Anyone diagnosed with gonorrhoea should also test for chlamydia, and vice versa.

Gonorrhoea is diagnosed by taking a urine sample and/or vaginal, anal, or throat swab, and testing it in a lab. These tests can be prescribed by a doctor or another healthcare professional.

How is gonorrhoea treated?

If you are diagnosed with gonorrhoea, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Avoid having sex until you and your partner have completed treatment. 

No over-the-counter or preventative treatments are available. That’s why it’s important that you get medical advice if you have had unprotected sex so that you can get tested.

More antibiotic-resistant gonococcal strains are emerging, so it’s essential to take a swab or urine sample before starting treatment. The lab will use your samples to test how susceptible the strain is to antibiotics. This procedure is known as antibiotic susceptibility testing, and can help your doctor prescribe the most effective treatment against the infection.

Treatment consists of antibiotics given orally or by intramuscular injection. 

It’s recommended you attend a follow-up appointment 7 days after your treatment. You will be offered another test to ensure the treatment has been successful.

How can I prevent gonorrhoea?

Using condoms when you have sex can protect you against most STIs, including gonorrhoea.

Practising safe sex is crucial to prevent transmission. Condoms can help protect you against STIs during oral, vaginal, or anal sex.

When should I get medical advice?

You should see a doctor if you have had unprotected sex, whether you have symptoms or not.

Your doctor will be able to refer you for testing and you might be advised to be tested for other STIs that can coexist, such as chlamydia and HIV. 

If you get a positive test result, a doctor will be able to prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.

How Livi can help

Our doctors will be able to help you with your symptoms. 

They may suggest attending a sexual health clinic for testing, which is the only way to confirm whether you’ve been infected. 

Most gonorrhoea infections can be treated quickly and effectively with antibiotics.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson