Gonorrhoea: signs, symptoms, and treatment

Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection and a common STI in Ireland
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Gonorrhoea is a common sexually transmitted infection which is increasing among young people. It is a bacterial infection in the area of the penis and vagina, throat, urethra (the tube that holds our urine) and bum.

How is gonorrhoea passed on?

Gonorrhoea is spread by having vaginal sex, anal sex and oral sex without using a condom. Remember, ejaculation does not have to happen for gonorrhea to be passed on.

It can also be spread by sharing sex toys or from fingers shared with each other that may have touched an infected area of the body, and unprotected rimming (mouth to anus contact/ oral-anal sex).

It can also be passed to a baby during birth.

Symptoms of gonorrhea

Some people will have no symptoms when they contract gonorrhea, but there are a number of things to look out for.

50% of women or people with a vagina will have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. If they do experience symptoms, this could include:

  • Pain during sex
  • Unusual vaginal discharge 
  • A burning sensation when peeing 
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Some may have bleeding between periods or their periods may become heavier

90% of men or people with a penis will experience the following symptoms

  • A watery or thick liquid from the penis or bum
  • Pain when peeing
  • Pain in the testicles (balls)
  • Inflammation of the foreskin
  • Pain in the bum
  • Throat infection
  • Eye infection.

Treatment for gonorrhoea

Visit your doctor or an STI clinic to have gonorrhoea diagnosed.

The infection can be treated with antibiotics. These antibiotics may interfere with hormonal contraception, so always check with your doctor beforehand.

Your partner and recent partners should also be treated. It is important not to have sex until after the treatment is complete. If your symptoms do not go away, it is important to return to the doctor or clinic for a repeat test.

For a list of free STI clinics in Ireland, click here. Testing is painless, quick, and totally worth it. Check out our run down of what will happen at an STI clinic here.

What happens if you don’t treat it?

If you don't treat gonorrhoea, it can spread to other reproductive organs. In women or people with a uterus, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Left untreated, PID can lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy (a dangerous type of pregnancy where the baby develops outside the womb), pain and blocked fallopian tubes.

Men or people with a penis can develop an infection in the testicles and prostate gland, which can be very painful and lead to infertility.

Untreated gonorrhoea can sometimes, if rarely, lead to arthritis, infection of the heart, skin lesions and meningitis.

How can you prevent gonorrhoea?

Condoms help protect against gonorrhoea, so it is important to use condoms every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. 

Use dental dams (a thin sheet of latex that covers the vagina/and or anus) for oral-vaginal sex or oral-anal sex (rimming).

Do not share sex toys. Make sure to wash them or cover them with a condom if you do. Check out our guide on safe sex-toy use here.

Get tested regularly and treated if required – it's free at public STI clinics.

Where can I get tested?

Tests for Gonorrhoea and other STIs are free at public STI clinics. Check out our list of free STI clinics here. You can also avail of private STI testing (for a fee) from your GP, Family Planning Clinics, GP Medical Centres and in some third-level colleges. The costs for this will vary.

Gonorrhoea can be tested for with a urine sample, and by taking a swab from the infected area (e.g throat, vagina/cervix, anus).

Did you know you can test yourself at home for STIs?

Remember: The age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. If you're over 16, you can consent to medical treatment including any treatment or tests needed.

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