Is Doxycycline Effective in Treating Gonorrhea?

By Alicia Wooldridge, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
March 4, 2022

Gonorrhea is the second most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States. It is highly contagious, and can be transmitted through oral, anal, or vaginal sex.

If you contract gonorrhea, you may be prescribed an antibiotic called doxycycline to treat it along with other medications.

In this article we’ll explore what gonorrhea is, how doxycycline can be an effective treatment, common symptoms of gonorrhea, and how to know when to see a doctor.

What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a bacteria known as Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It typically infects the mucus membranes of male and female reproductive tracts.

In men, it affects the urethra. In women, it can include the urethra, cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes.

It most commonly occurs in young adults. It can be transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sex if either partner is infected. Gonorrhea can also be passed to an infant during childbirth.

It is highly contagious, so if you are exposed, you should seek medical evaluation.

Gonorrhea rates have increased 92% in the last decade. As of 2019, more than 616,000 cases of gonorrhea in the United States were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The best way to prevent gonorrhea is to practice safe sex by using latex condoms (or polyurethane if you or your partner are allergic to latex) and to avoid vaginal, anal, or oral sex with a partner who has gonorrhea.

Safe sexual practices are the primary way to reduce the risk of getting gonorrhea or any other STD.

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What is Doxycycline?

Doxycycline is a tetracycline antibiotic. It prevents bacteria from creating certain proteins, which stops the bacteria from multiplying, halting the infection. 

Doxycycline may be prescribed as a powder, capsule, or in liquid form. It is available as a generic, or may be sold under different brand names including Avidoxy, Acticlate, Morgidox, Doryx, and others.

Can Doxycycline Treat Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection and is treated with antibiotics. The first-line treatment is an injection of ceftriaxone, paired with an oral seven-day course of doxycycline or azithromycin.

Doxycycline alone is not strong enough to address a gonorrhea infection. Some strains of gonorrhea are resistant to antibiotics and may require alternative antibiotic options.

If you are being treated for gonorrhea and your symptoms do not resolve after a week, or if they get worse or come back, tell your doctor. They may prescribe a different antibiotic.

If you have been diagnosed with gonorrhea, make sure your sexual partners know.

They will also require treatment. Only treating one partner can result in passing the infection back, which can result in drug-resistant strains and more serious complications.

Other Uses for Doxycycline

Doxycycline is successful in treating many types of infections, including:

  • Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs): In addition to treating gonorrhea, doxycycline may be prescribed to treat syphilis, chlamydia, or pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Acne: Certain types of acne are thought to be caused by bacteria on the surface of the skin. Doxycycline can work to prevent bacterial replication and decrease acne breakouts.
  • Eye infections: Eyes are particularly susceptible to damage from inflammation when bacterial infections are present. Doxycycline is an effective treatment for certain eye infections like chlamydial conjunctivitis and blepharitis.
  • Intestinal infections: Bacterial gastroenteritis, also referred to as food poisoning, is triggered when food is contaminated with bacteria. Antibiotics are often required to clear the bacteria from the intestinal tract and to protect from complications.
  • Urinary tract infections: Doxycycline is not the first-line treatment for UTIs, but may be used if drug-resistant bacteria is present after a urine culture or if allergies to other antibiotics complicate treatment.
  • Gum disease: Also known as periodontitis, gum disease happens when the gums are inflamed and infected with bacteria. Doxycycline can help clear the infection-causing bacteria which, if left untreated, can result in whole-body complications.
  • Bacterial pneumonia: Most pneumonia is caused by viruses, but when it is triggered by bacteria, doxycycline can be an effective treatment.
  • Malaria: Doxycycline may be used preventively while traveling through high-risk areas or as a treatment option. For malaria, doxycycline is often paired with other drugs, like quinidine or quinine.

Doxycycline will not help with viral infections like the cold or flu. 

Treatment Options for Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea will not go away on its own. Since it is a bacterial infection, it must be treated with antibiotics. 

The CDC recommended protocol is a single intramuscular (injected) dose of ceftriaxone, often with other antibiotics like doxycycline.

Because of the potential for drug resistance, follow-up testing to ensure the infection has been cleared may sometimes be recommended by your healthcare provider.

In some cases, your doctor may suggest testing after 7-14 days and a test of cure again after three months, since reinfection with gonorrhea can be common.

Preventative antibiotic treatment may be recommended for people who are at high risk of complications from gonorrhea or who have recurring infections.

Symptoms of Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea commonly causes symptoms in the genitals and reproductive organs. However, it can spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms of gonorrhea can include:

  • Pain during urination
  • Rectal itching, bleeding, or discharge
  • Pain during bowel movements
  • Eye pain and discharge
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Stiff and painful joints
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Skin sores
  • Bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Vaginal discharge

Gonorrhea does not always cause symptoms.

You can have the infection even without any noticeable signs.

If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to prostate and testicular problems in men. In women, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which could cause problems with fertility and future pregnancy.

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When to See a Doctor

If you have symptoms that are associated with gonorrhea, have multiple sexual partners, or have been told by a partner that you have been exposed to gonorrhea, see your doctor.

Your doctor can order lab tests to determine whether or not you have gonorrhea or another STD, and prescribe appropriate treatment.

Gonorrhea requires a medical diagnosis and must be treated in a timely manner.

Because it is a bacterial infection, it requires antibiotics. Since it is a common infection, there are some strains of gonorrhea that are becoming drug-resistant.

If your doctor prescribes antibiotics for gonorrhea, do not stop taking them until you have taken the entire course—even if you feel better—unless instructed to by your doctor.

Stopping antibiotics before you have taken the whole course can lead to a regrowth of the infection, or can lead to the development of a drug-resistant infection.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Which antibiotic is best for gonorrhea?
The CDC recommends a ceftriaxone injection as the first-line treatment for gonorrhea. It is often combined with an oral antibiotic like azithromycin or doxycycline. If antibiotic resistance is an issue, alternative antibiotics will be used.
When should I take doxycycline for gonorrhea?
If your doctor prescribes doxycycline for the treatment of gonorrhea, you should take it as prescribed. Follow the instructions on the prescription insert. Do not stop taking doxycycline or other antibiotics unless directed by your doctor. Stopping before the antibiotics have been completed might lead to a recurrence of the infection and the development of drug resistance.
How quickly does doxycycline work for gonorrhea?
Whether you are taking doxycycline or other antibiotics for gonorrhea, most treatment takes at least seven days. You should not have vaginal, oral, or anal sex for at least seven days after starting treatment for gonorrhea. Your doctor will let you know when you are safe to resume sexual activity again. If you have sex too soon before treatment is completed, you can get gonorrhea again or continue to spread it to others.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Alicia Wooldridge, MD

Dr. Alicia Wooldridge is a board certified Family Medicine physician with over a decade of experience.