Diagnosing gonorrhoea  

The only way to find out if you have gonorrhoea is to be tested. If you suspect gonorrhoea or any other sexually transmitted infection (STI), it's important not to delay getting tested.

It's possible to be tested within a few days of having sex, but you may be advised to wait up to a week. You can be tested even if you don't have any symptoms.

Early diagnosis and treatment of gonorrhoea reduces the risk of any complications developing, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or infection in the testicles. Complications that arise from long-term infection are much more difficult to treat.

Read more about the complications of gonorrhoea.

Who should get tested

It's recommended you get tested if:

  • you or your partner think you have symptoms of gonorrhoea
  • you've had unprotected sex with a new partner
  • you or your partner have had unprotected sex with other people
  • you have another STI
  • a sexual partner tells you they have an STI
  • during a vaginal examination, your nurse or doctor tells you that the cells of your cervix are inflamed or there's discharge
  • you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy

Where to get tested

There are several different places you can go to be tested for gonorrhoea:

  • a genitourinary medicine (GUM) or sexual health clinic
  • your GP surgery
  • a contraceptive and young people's clinic
  • a private clinic

It's possible to buy a gonorrhoea test from a pharmacy to do yourself at home. However, these tests vary in accuracy, so it's recommended that you go to your local sexual health service.

You can find details of your nearest sexual health or GUM clinic in the phone book, or find your nearest sexual health clinic by searching by postcode or town. You can attend these clinics at any age and all results are treated confidentially.

All tests are free through the NHS, but you'll have to pay if you go to a private clinic. If you go to your GP practice, you may have to pay a prescription charge for any treatment.

Testing for gonorrhoea

There are many different ways to test for gonorrhoea. In many cases, a swab will be used to remove a sample for testing, although men may only be asked to provide a urine sample.

A swab looks a bit like a cotton bud, but it's smaller and rounded. It's wiped over parts of the body that may be infected to pick up samples of discharge. This only takes a few seconds and isn't painful, although it may be a little uncomfortable.

The different tests that may be used to detect gonorrhoea in men and women are described below.

Women

For women, a doctor or nurse will usually take a swab to collect a sample from the vagina or cervix (entrance to the womb) during an internal examination. In some cases, a sample may also be taken from the urethra (tube that carries urine out of the body).

Sometimes you may be asked to use a swab or tampon to collect a sample from inside your vagina yourself.

Women aren't usually asked to provide a urine sample to check for gonorrhoea, because this is a less accurate test for women.

Men

Men will normally be asked to provide a urine sample, or a swab may be used to remove a sample of discharge from the end of the penis.

If you're asked to provide a urine sample, it's important not to urinate for about two hours beforehand, because this can wash the bacteria away and affect the results of the test.

Infections of the rectum, throat and eyes

If there's a possibility that your rectum or throat is infected, the doctor or nurse may need to use a swab to collect a sample from these areas.

If you have symptoms of conjunctivitis, such as red, inflamed eyes with discharge, a sample of the discharge may be collected from your eye.

Getting the results

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'll have to wait up to two weeks to get the results.

Page last reviewed: 28/07/2015

Next review due: 28/07/2017