Genital warts

Genital warts is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) passed on through vaginal, anal and, rarely, oral sex. Treatment from a sexual health clinic can help them go away.

Go to a sexual health clinic if you have:

  • 1 or more painless growths or lumps around your vagina, penis or anus
  • itching or bleeding from your genitals or anus
  • a change to your normal flow of pee (for example, sideways) that doesn't go away
  • a sexual partner who has genital warts, even if you have no symptoms

Go if you have 1 or more of these symptoms so you can find the cause. Treatment can help get rid of the warts and prevent the infection being passed on.

See pictures of genital warts on a vagina, penis and anus

Why you should go to a sexual health clinic

You can see a GP but they will probably refer you to a sexual health clinic if they think you might have genital warts.

Sexual health clinics treat problems with the genitals and urine system.

Many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service where you don't need an appointment. They'll often get test results quicker than GP practices, and you don't have to pay a prescription charge.

Find a sexual health clinic

What happens at a sexual health clinic

A doctor or nurse can usually diagnose warts by looking at them. They will:

  • ask you about your symptoms and sexual partners
  • look closely at the lumps around your genitals and anus
  • possibly need to look inside your vagina, anus or urethra (where pee comes out) depending where your warts are

It's not possible to find out who you got genital warts from or how long you've had the infection.

Treatment for genital warts

Treatment for genital warts needs to be prescribed by a doctor.

The type of treatment you'll be offered depends on what your warts are like. The doctor or nurse will discuss this with you.

  • cream or liquid: you can usually apply this to the warts yourself a few times a week for several weeks, but in some cases you may need to go to the clinic every week for a doctor or nurse to apply it – these treatments can cause soreness, irritation or a burning sensation
  • surgery: a doctor or nurse can cut, burn or laser the warts off – this can cause irritation or scarring
  • freezing: a doctor or nurse freezes the warts, usually every week for 4 weeks – this can cause soreness

It may take weeks or months for treatment to work, and the warts may come back. In some people the treatment doesn't work.

There's no cure for genital warts but it's possible for your body to clear the virus over time.

Do

  • tell the doctor or nurse if you're pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, as some treatments won't be suitable
  • avoid perfumed soaps or bubble baths during treatment as these can irritate the skin
  • ask the doctor or nurse if your cream treatment will affect condoms, diaphragms or caps

Don't

  • use wart treatment from a pharmacy – these are not made for genital warts
  • smoke – many treatments for genital warts work better if you don't smoke
  • have vaginal, anal or oral sex until the warts have gone – if you do, use a condom

How genital warts are passed on

The genital warts virus can be passed on whether or not there are visible warts.

Many people with the virus don't have symptoms but can still pass it on. If you have genital warts, your current sexual partners should get tested as they may have warts and not know it.

If symptoms do appear, it can happen over a year after infection.

You can get genital warts from:

  • skin-to-skin contact, including vaginal and anal sex
  • sharing sex toys
  • rarely, oral sex

The virus can also be passed to a baby from the mother at birth, but this is rare.

You can't get genital warts from:

  • kissing
  • things like towels, cutlery, cups or toilet seats

Preventing the spread of genital warts

You can prevent warts passing on by:

  • using a condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex – but if the virus is present in skin not protected by a condom, it can still be passed on
  • not having sex while you're having treatment for genital warts

Why genital warts come back

Genital warts are caused by a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). There are many types of HPV.

The HPV virus can stay in your skin, and warts can develop again.

Warts may go away without treatment but this can take many months. You can still pass the virus on, and the warts may come back.

Genital warts and cancer

Genital warts are not cancer, and don't cause cancer.

The HPV vaccine offered to girls in the UK to protect against cervical cancer also protects against genital warts.

Genital warts and pregnancy

Tell your midwife or doctor if:

  • you're pregnant, or think you're pregnant, and you have genital warts or think you have genital warts

During pregnancy, warts:

  • can grow and multiply
  • might appear for the first time, or come back after a long time of not being there
  • can be treated safely, but some treatments should be avoided
  • may be removed if they're very big, to avoid problems during birth
  • may be passed to the baby during birth, but this is rare – the virus can cause infection in the baby's throat or genitals

Most pregnant women with genital warts have a vaginal delivery. You might be offered a caesarean depending on your circumstances.

Page last reviewed: 21/08/2017
Next review due: 21/08/2020

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