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What Are Genital Warts?

Woman holds questsion mark in front of her crotch

Genital warts are small, fleshy growths or bumps found in the genital or anal area. They are a viral skin infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV isn’t a single virus but a group of more than 100 viruses. Most strains of HPV are symptomless; however some HPV can manifest physically. Approximately 90% of genital warts are caused by two strains of HPV: type 6 and type 11. For more information see our HPV article.

Are genital warts dangerous?

No. Genital warts are primarily harmless. Unlike, say, chlamydia, no evidence links genital warts to loss of fertility. Although occasionally sore and itchy, most cases of genital warts are completely painless. However genital warts do look unpleasant. Their presence can cause a loss of confidence, anxiety and distress.

Symptoms of genital warts

Genital warts often occur in clusters or large groups. They can occur in a range of sizes, and occasionally they can become itchy or inflamed.

Genital Warts in Women

Most cases of genital warts appear around the vulva, the opening of the vagina. Often the warts will be too small to notice, and entirely symptomless. Genital warts can appear:

  • around the vulva
  • on the cervix
  • within the vagina
  • around or within the anus
  • in the groin

Genital Warts in Men

Genital warts in men are less common than in women. Most cases occur around the anus or on the tip of the penis. They can appear:

  • on the penis, especially the tip
  • on and around the scrotum / testicles
  • within the urethra (where urine comes out)
  • around or within the anus
  • in the groin

Genital Warts Treatment

Treatment for genital warts depends on the severity of the symptoms. Our online doctor service offers two medical treatments for genital warts: Warticon and Aldara. These should treat most cases of genital warts. For a more detailed overview visit our Genital Wart Treatment page.

  • Warticon (podophyllotoxin): solution or cream used to treat small, fleshy warts. Warticon physically burns off the wart. The warts take around one month to disappear (sometimes longer) but can often return.
  • Aldara (imiquimod): a cream that works best on larger warts. Aldara assists your body's immune system in fighting the warts and the HPV. It may take several weeks, even months for the warts to disappear. However warts treated with Aldara are less likely to recur.

For more severe cases of genital warts, you may need to physically remove each wart. This is known as physical ablation. The four main methods of removing warts through physical ablation are:

  • Cryotherapy: freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen or dry ice.
  • Excision: cutting off the wart under local anesthetic.
  • Electrosurgery: a specialist treatment that burns away the wart using an electric current.
  • Laser Surgery: difficult to access warts (e.g. within the anus) can be burned away with a laser.

For all treatments you should avoid sexual intercourse until you are fully healed. You should use a condom during sex for the next three months (and whenever you have sex with a new partner). Unfortunately no treatment can remove HPV itself, the underlying cause of genital warts. It is also possible to pick up another strain of HPV. Therefore there is always a change the warts may recur.

HPV Vaccination

Using a condom during sex is the most effective protection against genital warts. However even condoms aren’t guaranteed as you can still pass HPV through the bare skin not covered by the condom. Vaccinating against HPV is recommended. We offer the Gardasil vaccination, which can reduce your risk of genital warts, as well as cervical cancer, by immunising you against four common strains of HPV: 6, 11, 16 and 18. Visit our Gardasil Information Page to start your online consultation.