Gonorrhoea is capable of causing serious complications, and can easily be spread to others. So, getting tested for the condition is recommended if you have had unprotected sex with someone whose STI status you do not know; and should be done as soon as possible if you think you may have come into contact with the infection.
Gonorrhoea can cause symptoms but doesn’t always. Testing is therefore the only way to know your status.
This page contains information on:
- when and how often you should get tested for gonorrhoea
- where you can get tested for gonorrhoea
- what gonorrhoea testing involves
- and what will happen if you test positive.
How often do I need to get tested for gonorrhoea?
It depends on your situation, namely:
- who or how many people you tend to have sex with;
- how sexually active you are;
- and whether you have any other infections that mean that you’re at a higher risk if you do get gonorrhoea.
For example, when starting a relationship with someone, it’s advisable to for both partners to get tested before having unprotected sex. People who are in a monogamous sexual relationship will generally not need to get tested again if they and their partner are only having sex with each other, and no-one else.
Women and heterosexual men who are single but sexually active are advised to get routinely tested for gonorrhoea and other STIs at least once yearly. If a person has unprotected sex with someone whose STI status they do not know, then it’s recommended that they get tested to be on the safe side.
Sexually active men who have sex with men tend to be more at risk of STIs, and are therefore advised to get a full STI screen at least once every six months.
Where can I get tested for gonorrhoea?
There are several different options. Some require you to attend testing in person, while others enable you to collect a sample for testing at home.
Free testing is available at NHS sexual health (GUM) clinics. In some cases you’ll need to make an appointment to have a test, but in other cases you’ll be able to get tested on a drop-in basis.
Generally, GP surgeries do not have the resources to conduct STI testing on site; but they can provide advice and refer you to appropriate services.
Many community hospitals have sexual health clinics, and offer testing on an appointment basis. These work in a similar way to GUM clinics, and are also free.
At time of writing, charity organisations such as Brook, the Family Planning Association and the Terrence Higgins Trust operate centres which offer free testing services.
Some private health clinics offer gonorrhoea testing. In the majority of cases you will have to pay for these services, and costs can vary.
Home test kits are available from some high street chemists and pharmacies. They provide convenience by enabling you to collect your sample at home, but aren’t likely to be free.
You can also buy gonorrhoea test kits online from pharmacies such as Treated.com. Again, you’ll be able to provide a sample at home with one of these, with the added convenience of not having to visit a chemist in person to purchase one.
What is involved in a gonorrhoea test?
If you attend a clinic in person, you’ll normally be asked questions about your sexual health and history, so that the doctor or nurse conducting the test can determine whether you’re at risk of any other STIs. If you are, you may be asked to provide a blood sample. But for gonorrhoea, you’ll normally just be asked to provide a urine sample or a swab.
- Urine sample. Patients are asked to supply a sample of urine in a pot. This type of sample is usually collected by the patient before being presented to clinical staff or sent in the post for testing.
- Genital swab. The swab looks similar to a cotton bud and can be used to pick up cells by brushing it inside the vagina or on the end of the penis. Swabs can also be used to check for infection in the rectum and throat. This method of sample collection can often be carried out by the patient but some clinics may use a healthcare professional.
Once you have supplied your sample, you’ll be advised on when to expect your results. If you attend testing in person, it typically takes about a week for results to be turned around.
A common practice for GUM clinics is for them to call you to notify you if your result is positive; but they normally advise that if you haven't heard from them after two weeks, to call up and confirm your negative result.
Self test kit samples will usually need to be sent to a lab for analysis. The test kit you buy will come with a prepaid envelope to post this back, and have instructions on how you’ll receive your result.
For example, when you buy a gonorrhoea test kit online from Treated.com, you’ll receive an email or text message when your result is ready, and you’ll be prompted to login to your patient area to view it. If you provide and send back your sample promptly, it’s likely you’ll receive your result within seven days or less.
Other home test kits can provide a result in minutes, and do not need the sample to be sent to a lab for analysis. Historically, these have tended to be less reliable than lab tests; however there are now some available which offer high rates of accuracy.