Gonorrhea has a relatively short incubation period. You can usually get a reliable test result if you wait until at least 2 weeks pass since the suspected exposure.

Gonorrhea is usually asymptomatic. If symptoms do occur, they may be mild or nonspecific, meaning you may not realize a sexually transmitted infection (STI) like gonorrhea causes them.

In some cases, you can take the antibiotic doxycycline as a postexposure prophylaxis (Doxy-PEP) to help reduce the chance of infection. Think of it as a “morning-after pill” for bacterial STIs.

Doxy-PEP is available by prescription only, and you need to take it within 72 hours for it to work. A typical dose is one 200-milligram (mg) pill.

After exposure, it usually takes up to 14 days for gonorrhea to show up on an STI test. This is called a “window period.”

Healthcare professionals usually diagnose gonorrhea through a urine test or by testing a fluid sample. You may receive your results within a few days, depending on the clinic and lab you use.

You can also use an at-home gonorrhea test if you prefer.

Gonorrhea left untreated can lead to complications like inflammation and scarring in your reproductive system. This can lead to infertility.

Untreated gonorrhea can also cause:

  • an abscess inside your penis, which can affect your fertility
  • epididymitis, which is inflammation of the semen-carrying tubes near your testicles
  • ectopic pregnancy, which happens when a fertilized egg implants outside your uterus
  • pelvic inflammatory disease, which can damage your uterus, fallopian tubes, and other reproductive organs

If you think you have gonorrhea, the first step is to make an appointment with a healthcare professional for a test. Our FindCare tool can help you find a primary care doctor.

You can also access free or lower cost STI diagnosis and treatment at:

It’s important to note that gonorrhea is treatable — but over-the-counter or home remedies don’t treat it.

What are the first noticeable signs of gonorrhea?

If you develop gonorrhea symptoms, the first signs might include:

How soon can gonorrhea be detected?

The incubation period for gonorrhea is 1–14 days. If a gonorrhea test is negative, you may have gonorrhea but only experienced exposure in the past few days.

If you’ve recently had sex with a new partner, it may be a good idea to get tested again in a couple of weeks.

How long can you carry gonorrhea without knowing?

You can go months without developing symptoms of gonorrhea. Some people never experience symptoms — but asymptomatic carriers can still pass gonorrhea on to others.

Can gonorrhea go away by itself?

No, the symptoms of gonorrhea may sometimes disappear and come back. But gonorrhea itself can’t clear up on its own. Gonorrhea is treatable with prescription antibiotics, which usually clear up the infection.

If you think you’ve experienced exposure to gonorrhea within the last 72 hours, contact a healthcare professional and ask whether you could take doxy-PEP to prevent infection.

Gonorrhea can show up in as little as 1 day to 1 week after infection, but it can also take longer for symptoms to appear. Some people carry gonorrhea without experiencing symptoms.

Whether or not you have symptoms, gonorrhea doesn’t go away on its own. It’s important to get tested for gonorrhea so that you can access treatment.

Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.