Genital warts is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Signs and symptoms

  • Pinkish/white cauliflower-shaped lumps on the genital area.
  • Warts can appear on the penis, scrotum or anus or in the vagina.
  • It usually takes 1-3 months from infection for warts to appear, but it can take much longer.
  • They may itch but are usually painless.
  • Not everyone who comes into contact with the virus will get warts.

Getting it

Warts are caused by a virus and are spread through skin-to-skin contact. If you have sex or genital contact with someone who has genital warts, you may develop them too.

They can be passed on during vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Diagnosis & treatment

A doctor or nurse can usually tell whether you have genital warts just by looking and an internal examination may be carried out to check for warts in the vagina or anus.

Usually you will be prescribed an anti-wart liquid or cream, which can be used at home. Genital warts can also be removed by freezing or laser treatment.

Treatment may be uncomfortable, should not be painful but may go on for several weeks. Never try to treat genital warts by yourself – always ask a doctor or nurse.

You can take care of yourself and your partner or partners if you:

  • Keep your genital area clean and dry.
  • Don’t use scented soaps, bath oils or vaginal deodorants.
  • Use condoms when having sex – though these will protect against warts only if they cover the affected area.
  • Make sure your partner or partners also have a check up.

Long-term effects

Warts often come back, even after treatment and need to be treated again.

There are some types of wart virus that may be linked to changes in cervical cells, which can lead to cancer. However, this is rare. Women with genital warts should, like all women over the age of 25, have regular cervical smear tests every 3-5 years.

If you think you may have genital warts, contact your local sexual health (GUM) clinic and make an appointment. It’s easy and completely confidential.

For more information on sexual health (including HIV), call the Sexual Health Line free (from the UK) on 0800 567 123, textphone (for people with hearing impairments) 0800 521 361 or phone your local NHS sexual health clinic.

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