happy couple lying in the grass

Genital warts come in various sizes and shapes. Common symptoms of genital warts include:

  • Small bumps (up to 2-3cm for) that are skin-coloured and often grow in 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 or groin) and do not cause discomfort or pain. In rare cases, they can be itchy, hurt a bit or bleed - especially if you scratch them.

DrEd offers a free online photo assessment as well as topical warts treatments.

How can I check for genital warts?

The only symptom of genital warts are the growths, which means you only know you're infected once you've spotted one of them on your skin. They can sometimes appear inside your genitals and may be difficult to spot. If you think you have been infected, you need to consult your GP.

It is best to spot and treat them early on, to make sure they don't keep growing and spreading. Women should look for warts in or around their vulva and groin. Men should examine their penis, scrotum, groin and thighs. 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?

With regards to the early signs of genital warts, you need to keep in mind that they can appear weeks to months after the infection. Women who have recently had unprotected sex and are looking for early signs of genital warts will either have to check regularly or get tested (i.e. pap smear). Sometimes, women experience abnormal vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding after sex or an itchy feeling in the genital areas.

For men, there is no reliable test that can detect the virus responsible for genital warts. If you spot a cauliflower-like growth on or near your genitals or in your groin, you need to ask a doctor to examine it.

Taking Care Of Yourself

Rather than looking for early signs of genital warts and having to treat them after they've appeared you should try to prevent the infection. Your body is capable of fighting the virus, and patients in their 20s to early 30s generally have a better chance of effectively killing the virus than patients over 30.

If you know you carry the virus, you should try to boost your immune system. It is exactly when your body is weakened that genital warts tend to appear. Take extra care when suffering from a disease (including chronic diseases such as diabetes) or undergoing chemotherapy. An unhealthy lifestyle increases your risk of developing genital warts if you have contracted the virus. You should avoid smoking, binge drinking and stress.

Avoid The Infection

Men are just as contagious as women, even though they are less likely to show symptoms. The best way to avoid warts remains prevention, via the use of condoms and regular check ups at your GUM clinic. You are particularly at risk of developing warts if you have several sexual partners per year and do not use condoms.

Too Late? Start With Topical Creams

If you spot the first signs of genital warts you should begin treatment immediately. Topical creams such as Warticon, Condyline or Aldara can help you get rid of the warts. Other treatments for warts include a wide range of surgical operations (laser, freezing them off, cutting them off) as well as chemical treatments. These treatments help remove the warts but they do not kill the virus which causes them.

Further Tests

If are worried that you might have been infected but you have not found any warts yet, you should visit your doctor. Your doctor can treat the potentially affected areas with a liquid (called acetic acid) which makes tiny warts visible. If none are found, your doctor may need to perform a pap smear (i.e. taking a tissue sample for lab analysis). Sexually transmitted diseases are often transmitted together and tend to cause similar symptoms, so your doctor 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 or papules (sort of pimples). When in doubt, consult your GP or GUM clinic.