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Condoms with a water-based lubricant help prevent gonorrhoea.

Condoms with a water-based lubricant help prevent gonorrhoea.
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Gonorrhoea (the clap)

4-minute read

What is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria. It is sometimes known as ‘the clap’.

It can affect the urethra (the tube for urine), cervix (the opening of the uterus at the top of the vagina), anus, throat or eyes.

What are the symptoms of gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea often has no symptoms.

In women, if symptoms do occur, they usually develop within 10 days of infection. In women, symptoms may include:

  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • pain, discomfort or burning sensation when passing urine
  • pelvic pain, especially during sex
  • irregular bleeding, especially between periods or after sex
  • anal discharge and discomfort
  • sore, dry throat

In men, if symptoms do occur, they usually develop within 1 to 3 days. In men, symptoms may include:

  • thick, yellow or white discharge from the penis
  • pain, discomfort or burning sensation when passing urine
  • pain in the testes (balls)
  • redness around the opening of the penis
  • anal discharge and discomfort
  • sore, dry throat

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our sexual health and lower body Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is spread by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected person. It can be passed by fingers or hands from the genitals to the eyes.

Gonorrhoea can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during birth, which can cause eye infection (neonatal conjunctivitis) and even blindness.

When should I see my doctor?

Gonorrhoea will not go away by itself and it has serious complications.

If you think you have gonorrhoea it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible.

How is gonorrhoea diagnosed?

Testing for gonorrhoea involves taking a swab (sample) from the urethra in men and the cervix in women. It can also be tested by taking a urine sample.

Sometimes swabs are also taken from the throat and anus.

It is also important to get tested for other sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, chlamydia and HIV.

How is gonorrhoea treated?

Gonorrhoea can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Sometimes you may need to be re-tested 2 weeks after your treatment to make sure it has worked. You should have another test 3 months later to make sure it hasn’t come back.

It’s important to avoid having sex, even with a condom, until 7 days after treatment is finished and tests show you are cured.

Can gonorrhoea be prevented?

It’s very important to tell all your sexual partners from the past 3 to 6 months that you have been diagnosed with gonorrhoea. They will need to be tested and treated if infected.

Your doctor will help you decide who you need to tell and how you can tell them.

The following website can provide advice and sample emails, SMSs and letters to send either personally or anonymously: Let Them Know.

Practicing safe sex is the best way to prevent gonorrhoea infection.

It is safest to:

  • always use condoms with a water-based lubricant
  • always use dental dams for oral sex (a dental dam is a thin square of latex placed over the vulva or anus during oral sex)
  • limit your sex partners or have a long-term monogamous relationship where neither of you is already infected
  • avoid sex with someone infected with gonorrhoea until after they have finished treatment and are cured
  • have regular check-ups

Complications of gonorrhoea

If it’s not treated, gonorrhea can cause permanent damage to the eyes, joints, heart or brain.

In women, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause infertility. You may know you have PID if you have pain in your tummy, especially during sex, heavy and painful periods and a fever.

Gonorrhoea can also cause infertility in men as it can damage the tubes that carry sperm.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2019


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