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. Read about early signs of genital warts.
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.
The common description of genital warts is that when they are big enough they tend to aggregate into small cauliflower-shaped clusters that are flesh-coloured.
Most of them are generally soft and moist, and tend to appear in "groups" of three to four. Note however that this is very variable and that some people will only have one or two warts where others will suffer from many more.
There are more than a hundred different strains of the human papilloma virus, with only a couple of them responsible for most types of genital warts as well as those around the anus. 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 stabilise.
Other strains of HPV will 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 happens in fairly 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 health care provider instead.
The different forms of genital warts that affect women will appear in or around the vagina, vaginal lips, anus or near the neck of the womb. Very often, warts are too small for you to see or notice them.
Warts inside the vagina or anus may cause some discomfort but they may also not produce any symptoms at all.
In men, genital warts are not as common as in women, and generally appear on the tip of the penis. They can also appear around the anus as a result of anal sex. Most types of warts will appear between one to three months after infection.
In any case, if you think you are infected you should get examined to avoid complications and further spreading the disease to other people.
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 surfaces.
Most types of warts can be treated with the same creams – Warticon and Aldara are usually the most effective ones.
However, should 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. Moreover, since genital warts are not always visible to the naked eye your doctor might have to use more extensive tests to determine whether you are infected or not or not.
If you're worried that you might have genital warts, it's always recommended to get a professional diagnosis. 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 a cancer. In most cases you will be just fine, and the biopsy (or Pap test) is there to determine whether you are infected with the specific HPV strain that might cause cancer. On the whole, regular testing is important for women over 30 years who tend to have a weaker immune system.
Genital warts in pregnant women may cause problems if warts keep on growing to the point that they make it difficult or painful to urinate. Additionally, warts may pose additional threats to the mother's health during childbirth by making it harder for tissues to stretch (i.e. the mother might need a cesarean).
If you suspect you have genital warts, but would like to avoid the potential embarrassment of visiting your doctor you can use our free assessment service.