Four main gonorrhoea symptoms as cases reach record high

Just the word 'gonorrhoea' is enough to make you wince, isn't it?

And this common, sexually transmitted infection (STI) is particularly insidious as it can often be more or less symptomless – with one in 10 men and five in 10 women experiencing no obvious signs.

Gonorrhoea is spread through unprotected sex and sex toys which have not been washed or covered with a condom. With rates of the disease rapidly spiralling up in England, it's vital to take note of the warning signs in order to seek treatment and prevent it spreading further.

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Four main symptoms of gonorrhoea

There are four main signs of the infection that affect both men and women. According to the NHS, among women the most common symptoms include:

  • An unusual vaginal discharge, which may be thin or watery and green or yellow in colour
  • Pain or a burning sensation when passing urine
  • Pain or tenderness in the lower abdominal area – this is less common
  • Bleeding between periods, heavier periods and bleeding after sex – this is less common

Whereas in men, symptoms of gonorrhoea can include:

  • An unusual discharge from the tip of the penis, which may be white, yellow or green
  • Pain or a burning sensation when urinating
  • Inflammation (swelling) of the foreskin
  • Pain or tenderness in the testicles – this is rare

It's also possible for gonorrhoea to infect the rectum, eyes and throat.

“Infection in the rectum can cause discomfort, pain or discharge,” says the NHS. “Infection in the eyes can cause irritation, pain, swelling and discharge, and infection in the throat usually causes no symptoms.”

How many people are infected

Latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show there were 392,453 sexually transmitted infections (STIs) reported in England in 2022. Among the most widespread were gonorrhoea and syphilis, with the former rising by 50.3 per cent to 82,592 in 2022, compared to the year before. This is the highest number of cases in any one year since records began in 1918.

What to do if you think you have an STI

Navin Khosla, pharmacist at Now Patient, spoke with about what to do if you think you have an STI.

Get tested

If you have more than one sexual partner, it is important to get tested on a regular basis. If you suspect you have an STI, make sure you visit your local sexual health clinic as soon as possible. The sooner you receive the results, the quicker treatment can begin.

Tell your sexual partners

While it inevitably won't be an easy conversation, if you think you have an STI you need to let your sexual partners know. And remember, there is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s important to get tested and treated as soon as possible.

Refrain from having sex

Until a test result gives you the all-clear, it’s essential you refrain from any sexual activity. Doing so will reduce the chances of someone else potentially catching the infection.

If you do end up having intercourse, make sure a condom is worn by yourself or your partner.

Take medication

If a test for gonorrhoea comes back positive, then a sexual health practitioner will likely be in touch to talk through the next steps and to advise you on any medication.

Get yourself re-tested

If you've finished the course of medication, there is a chance the infection could still be lingering, so it's essential to get tested again to make sure it has completely gone.

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