happy couple lying in the grass

Genital warts come in various sizes and shapes, so it's very difficult to describe the symptoms.

We have compiled a list of the most common symptoms of genital warts:

  • Small bumps (up to 2-3cm for the rare big ones) that are skin-coloured and often aggregate into clusters forming a sort of cauliflower shape.
  • Some people only have one or two warts. When these growths are located directly in the genital area, they are usually soft-to-the-touch and can be either raised or flat.
  • Most of the time, genital warts appear in moist areas (e.g. in or around the vagina, anus, groin) and do not provoke symptom or discomfort. In rare cases, they can be itchy, hurt a bit or bleed - especially if you scratch them

How can I check for genital warts?

There are no real symptoms of genital warts, which means you only know you're infected once you've spotted one of them on your skin. If they're one of those that appear inside your genitals, then you have no choice but to consult your GP if you think you've been infected.

The best thing you can do is to spot them early on and get them treated, to make sure they don't keep growing. Women should look for warts in or around their vulva and groin. Men should examine their penis, scrotum, groin and thighs.

Moreover, oral and anal sex with an infected partner can lead to genital warts spreading to the mouth (e.g. lips, tongue, palate), throat and anus.

What To Look For?

When talking about the early signs of genital warts, you need to keep in mind that they generally appear weeks to months after the infection.

Women who have recently had unprotected sex and are looking for early signs of contamination will either have to be patient or get a test (i.e. pap smear).

When there are symptoms however, women can expect an abnormal vaginal discharge or vaginal bleeding after sex, and possibly itchy genital areas.

For men, there is to date no reliable test that can detect the virus responsible for genital warts.

Obviously if you spot a cauliflower-like growth on or near your genital areas, there are great chances it is a genital wart and you should get tested.

Taking Care Of Yourself

Rather than looking for early signs of genital warts and having to treat them after they've appeared, there is a much better thing to do: prevent the infection. Your body is capable of fighting the virus, and patients in their 20s to early 30s generally have better chances of effectively killing the virus.

What you can do then is to boost your immune system, because it's exactly when your body is weakened that genital warts tend to appear.

Therefore, you need to pay extra care if you are currently suffering from a disease (including chronic diseases such as diabetes), or undergoing chemotherapy. More generally, any unhealthy lifestyle will help with the eruption of genital warts. This also includes smoking, binge drinking and stress.

Avoid The Infection

Men are just as contagious as women, even though they tend to show fewer symptoms.

So, the best way to avoid warts remains prevention, via the use of condoms and regular check ups at your GUM clinic. The population that is at risk is typically composed of people who have two or more sexual partners in a year.

Too Late? Start With Topical Creams

You've passed the stage of spotting the first signs of genital warts once you realize that what were previously invisible warts to the naked eye have turned into large clusters of warts. It's time to get that treated before it becomes worse.

Topical creams are usually effective to help rid you of warts and are the most common treatment to begin with. Other treatments for die-hard warts include a wide range of surgical operations (laser, freezing them off, cutting them off) as well as chemical treatments.

Further Tests

If you worry that you might have been infected but no warts are in sight, you can visit your doctor who will treat the potentially affected areas with a liquid (acetic acid) that will make warts visible. If that doesn't work, your doctor will need to perform a Pap smear (i.e. taking a tissue sample for lab analysis).

Sexually transmitted diseases often come together and tend to produce similar symptoms, so if you decide to consult your GP or local clinic, your health care provider should also test you for gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis.

Early Stages Of Genital Warts... Or Just Genital Bumps?

Not all genital bumps are early signs of genital warts. They could be the manifestation of other diseases: from syphilis to haemorrhoids and papules (sort of pimples). When in doubt consult your health care provider.