There are different types of genital warts. Which treatment you require depends on the size and type of warts you have.
All of these different types are caused by the same virus - the HPV virus - and are also known as "condyloma" or "penile/venereal warts".
They look like skin-colored growths located in or around the genital and anal areas.
Most types of genital warts are painless and tend to appear in clusters. If you suffer from such warts you should get treated before having sex again as they are highly contagious.
Genital warts are usually soft and moist and tend to appear in "groups" of three to four. Note however, that this differs between patients and that some people will only have one or two warts while others may develop a large number of individual growths. When the warts go unnoticed, they grow and form small cauliflower-shaped clusters that are flesh-coloured.
There are more than a hundred different strains of the human papilloma virus, only a couple of which are responsible for most types of genital warts (as well as anal warts). The majority of genital warts are caused by HPV types 6 and 11. These warts will usually grow for 6 months after which they tend to stop growing. Other strains of HPV can cause warts on your feet or hands, which are less contagious than genital warts. A few strains of HPV are classified as high-risk, as they can lead to specific cancers.
You might read that genital warts can cause "mild pain" and that they may feel itchy or bleed. In fact, this only happens in rare cases, when warts reach a considerable size and/or if you scratch them off. If you think you have a wart, avoid any scratching (to avoid bleeding), and consult your doctor instead.
The different forms of genital warts which affect women can appear in or around the vagina, vulva, anus or near the neck of the womb. Often, the warts are too small for you to see or notice. Warts inside the vagina or anus can cause discomfort but they may also not cause any symptoms at all.
In men, genital warts are not as common as in women. They often appear on the tip of the penis but they can also appear around the anus, especially when the virus is transmitted during anal sex. Most types of warts will appear between one to three months after infection.
If you think you are infected you should get examined to avoid complications and to prevent that you transmit the infection to future partners. In about half of all cases, genital warts appear on the shaft of the penis, usually just below the foreskin.
Some types of genital warts – usually the smaller ones – are easier to treat than others. Similarly, warts growing on moist skin tend to respond better to treatment than those located on dry skin. Most types of warts can be treated with creams such as Warticon and Aldara. However, should the warts be persistent you need to see a dermatologist and consider other treatment options such as surgically removing them, using cryosurgery (freezing off the warts with liquid nitrogen) or laser treatment.
Diagnosing genital warts can be tricky, because people are often too embarrassed to consult their GP. Since genital warts are not always visible to the naked eye, your doctor might have to carry out tests to determine whether you are infected or not or not. If you're worried that you might have genital warts, it is important to get a professional diagnosis as soon as possible. This will preserve both your peace of mind and your health.
If your doctor needs further tests to determine whether you're infected, he may need to perform a biopsy (i.e. take a sample of tissue from the wart or “suspicious” skin area) and send it to a lab for analysis. This will help detect signs of genital or cervical cancers. For people who are considered “at risk” and who have been diagnosed with HPV, it is important to have regular check-ups (including a biopsy) to make sure that everything is fine.
Not all types of genital warts increase your risk of developing cancer. In most cases you will be just fine, and a biopsy (or Pap test) is carried out to determine whether you are infected with the specific HPV strain that might cause cancer. Regular smear tests are also important for women over 30 years and those who tend to have a weaker immune system.
Genital warts can cause problems in pregnant women, especially if the warts keep on growing to the point where they make it difficult or painful to urinate. Additionally, warts can pose an additional threat to the mother's health during childbirth as they can make it harder for the tissue to stretch (i.e. the mother might need a cesarean). If you suspect you have genital warts, but are reluctant to visit your doctor, you can use our free assessment service.