Does Gonorrhoea Cause Symptoms?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria. Find out which symptoms it causes and how to tell whether you have it.

Do I Have Gonorrhoea?

The symptoms of gonorrhea can be difficult to spot as the infection does not always manifest itself in the same way and sometimes there may be no symptoms at all. If you think you might have an STI it is important that you take a test regardless of whether you are experiencing any symptoms.

Gonorrhea can be transmitted during oral, anal and vaginal sex. The most effective way to prevent catching it is to use a condom.

Men are more likely to experience gonorrhea symptoms than women, with approximately nine out of ten infected men noticing unusual discharge from the penis or pain during urination. It is, however, also possible for men to have gonorrhea without any noticeable symptoms.

How Soon Will I Get Symptoms?

The incubation period of gonorrhea (i.e. the time between contact and displaying symptoms) lies between two to five days. Patients who develop symptoms most commonly do so within this time frame but it is also possible for gonorrhea symptoms to occur within one month of the date of infection. Some patients with gonorrhea don’t experience any symptoms.

If gonorrhea remains undetected and undiagnosed for a long period of time, the infection is likely to spread and affect other parts of the body. Patients who have carried the infection for a long time are at risk of complications and may begin to experience gonorrhea symptoms months or even years after infection.

Which Symptoms Can gonorrhoea Cause?


  • frequent urination
  • discomfort during urination
  • unusual discharge from the penis (this can be clear, milky, yellow or green and may contain blood)
  • itching, bleeding or discharge in the anal area

If gonorrhea in men goes unnoticed, the infection is likely to spread and damage the reproductive system, which can lead to infertility. Gonorrhoea can also spread and affect other parts of the body, including joints and tendons.


Approximately 50% of women do not experience any gonorrhea symptoms. Those who do often mistake the first signs of gonorrhea for a urinary tract infection, as the symptoms can be very mild. The symptoms depend on the site of infection and can affect the vagina, anus, throat or eyes.

The most common symptoms experienced by women are:

  • frequent urination
  • pain or burning sensation when urinating
  • abnormal anal or vaginal discharge which can be green or yellow
  • unusual and irregular bleeding
  • abdominal pain
  • itching in the genital area
  • swelling of the bartholin glands (located at the entrance of the vagina)
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • some women experience bleeding after intercourse

Untreated gonorrhea in women can lead to serious complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease and increases the risk of ectopic pregnancies (which means that the egg develops outside the womb). In the long run, the inflammation caused by gonorrhea can lead to permanent infertility.

Gonorrhea can also affect the throat, eyes or rectum in both men and women.

What Does gonorrhoea Discharge Look Like?

In women, gonorrhea discharge can be white or of a greenish colour.

In men, discharge caused by a gonorrhea infection can be white or yellow.

Many people have gonorrhea without ever experiencing any discharge and you could have the infection even if you don’t have symptoms.

In some cases, gonorrhea of the anus can cause anal discharge. If you have had unprotected anal sex and notice unusual discharge, you should get tested.

Does Gonorrhoea Smell?

Gonorrhea discharge can have an unpleasant, foul smell.

Does Gonorrhoea Cause a Rash?

Gonorrhea can rarely cause a rash. If you develop a rash around your genitals, it is possible that it has a different cause. You need to see a doctor, who will be able to diagnose your condition.

Conditions which can cause a rash include genital herpes and fungal infections.

Other Possible Symptoms

Infection of the throat usually occurs after oral sex with an infected partner. Most of the time, a gonorrhea infection in the throat does not cause any symptoms, although it may cause a sore throat.

Gonorrhea can also cause “Pinkeye”, an inflammation of the eye known medically as conjunctivitis which causes pain, discharge and swelling of the eye. Conjunctivitis caused by gonorrhea bacteria is relatively rare, but it can occur if the eye gets into contact with the vaginal fluid or semen of an infected partner.

If gonorrhea is untreated, it can spread further into the reproductive system and in women may cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which can lead to chronic pelvic pain, miscarriages, premature labour and infertility. If you are pregnant, you can pass the infection to your baby, with serious consequences.

As the infection progresses, it can spread beyond the reproductive system and affect your joints, the skin, the blood and even your heart. It can also cause meningitis, which can be life-threatening. This condition is called disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI). Patients with DGI can suffer from skin rash, arthritis and joint pain. The best way to prevent complications is to take a test after unprotected sex to ensure that any existing STI’s are diagnosed early. The test will reliably detect an infection two weeks after sex (or later).

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