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Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea - 'the clap' - is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a type of bacteria (neisseria gonorrhoeae).

Infection usually occurs in the genitals, but can affect the throat, eyes and rectum. It can even spread through the bloodstream causing more widespread infection in some cases.

If gonorrhoea remains untreated, there is a risk of passing the infection on to others. You are also at risk of serious complications.

For men, untreated gonorrhoea may lead to infection in the testes, causing pain and swelling, and in some cases infertility.

Some women who have untreated gonorrhoea may develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), and in some serious cases infection can result in ectopic pregnancy and infertility.

Gonorrhoea can also be passed on from mother to baby at the time of birth, and can cause a severe eye infection in newly born infants, so it's important to get checked if you are pregnant and think you may have gonorrhoea.

How it's caught

You can catch gonorrhoea by having unprotected vaginal or anal sex, oral sex or by sharing sex toys. Gonorrhoea is not caught by kissing, even if one partner has the infection in his or her throat.

You or your partner could have picked up the infection from a previous partner without even knowing it. Men tend to have symptoms more often than women, but either sex can carry the infection without being aware. The greater the number of sexual partners you have, the greater the risk of infection.

Gonorrhoea can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth. This usually causes an eye infection (conjunctivitis).

Symptoms

Many people with gonorrhoea will not notice any symptoms. This means that infection can often go untreated for some time.

Even without early symptoms, gonorrhoea can still be passed on to others and cause painful problems and infertility.

If you do notice the symptoms of gonorrhoea, they will usually show up between 1 to 14 days after coming into contact with the infection. In most cases, it is easier for men to recognise gonorrhoea than women and it is usually seen within a week.

Men with gonorrhoea will notice green or yellow fluid coming out of the penis. This is sometimes accompanied by pain or a burning sensation when peeing or a rash on the head of the penis. There may also be some discomfort and swelling of the testicles.

About 3 in 4 women do not have any obvious symptoms of gonorrhoea. Symptoms may take slightly longer to appear than in men. There can be increased discharge from the vagina, pain in the abdomen, or pain when peeing. Sometimes women may experience bleeding in between periods, after sex, or have irregular or heavy periods.

Gonorrhoea can also infect the throat, anus or eyes. You may experience pain or discharge in these areas.

If you think you or your partner may have gonorrhoea, it's important you arrange to get tested.

If you have gonorrhoea there is an increased risk of an ‘ectopic’ pregnancy (where the baby begins to grow outside the womb).

If you have a gonorrhoea infection during pregnancy it can result in giving birth to the baby early (premature birth). In addition, the infection can be passed on to the baby during birth and result in a severe eye infection in the infant.

Testing

For a gonorrhoea test you can visit GP or a sexual health service.

Getting tested for gonorrhoea is simple and straightforward. If you have symptoms, the nurse or doctor will usually use a swab wiped over parts of the body that may be infected, to pick up samples of discharge.

A swab looks a bit like a cotton bud and collecting a sample only takes a few seconds and is not painful, although it may be a little uncomfortable for a moment. Sometimes, men will be asked to provide a urine sample.

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 will have to wait up to two weeks to get the results.

Treatment

Gonorrhoea is treated with antibiotics either given orally (as a pill) or as an injection. Some gonorrhoea is becoming resistant to antibiotics. This can make it more difficult to treat.

If there is a high chance that you have gonorrhoea, you may be given treatment before you get your results back. You will be offered treatment if your partner is found to have gonorrhoea.

It is important to avoid sex until you and your partner have both finished gonorrhoea treatment to prevent reinfection.

Tell the doctor or nurse if you are pregnant or think you might be, or if you are breastfeeding. This will make a difference to the antibiotic you are prescribed.

Prevention

The best way to prevent all sexually transmitted infection including gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV, is to practise safer sex.

This means using a condom for vaginal or anal sex and a dental dam or condom for oral sex, or practicing safer sex alternatives.

 

For more information call  0800 22 44 88 or use our sexual health service finder to look for help in your area.