Genital Warts

What are genital warts?
Genital warts are caused by a virus called Human Papilloma virus. The virus affects the skin of the penis, vagina and anus. It can cause warts, which are like those that grow on other parts of the body. Don’t panic if you have genital warts – they are very common.

What are the symptoms?
Often the warts are small and very difficult to see – you may not even know you have them. The warts are small, fleshy lumps. You might see or feel them, or your partner might notice them. They can be flat, smooth, small bumps, or quite large, pink cauliflower-like lumps. They may itch, but they don’t usually hurt.

In women, genital warts can grow on the skin of the vulva, at the opening of the vagina and around the anus. They sometimes grow inside the vagina and on the cervix (the neck of the womb).

In men, genital warts may grow on the genital skin and around the anus (back passage).

How are the warts passed on?
The virus can be passed by skin-to-skin contact  (usually sex) with a partner who has the genital wart virus. A person does not need to have visible genital warts to pass the virus on to someone else. If you have sex with someone who has genital warts, you may get them too. The virus can lie dormant for a long time so it is difficult to know when you may have acquired the virus.

How is it diagnosed?
A doctor will usually be able to diagnose the warts just by looking at them. Many people with warts also have other infections, even if they have no other symptoms. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a full sexual-health check-up.

Where can I be treated?
If you think you have an infection or you have any worries about your sexual health, you can make an appointment with your family doctor or at a Integrated Sexual Health Clinic (formerly Genito-urinary GUM). The Integrated Sexual Health Clinic (formerly Genito-urinary GUM) is run by friendly, specially-trained staff who give free confidential advice and treatment. You don’t need to see your family doctor first, just phone to make an appointment yourself. You can get details of your nearest clinic from the sexual health services section of this website.

How are genital warts treated?
Genital warts cannot be treated with antibiotics. However, there are other treatments that can help to get rid of the warts. These are some of the treatments. The doctor will choose the one that is best for you.

  • A cream called “Warticon” which can be applied at home.
  • Freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen.
  • Laser treatment or surgery. (These treatments are less common).

Remember that you should not treat genital warts with the treatments you can get from the chemist. The skin around the genitals is very sensitive and you could burn yourself.

Will the treatment hurt?
Most people cope with the treatment well. However, sometimes people feel a bit uncomfortable for a day or two. If you do feel sore, having a warm salty bath can sometimes help. You should not use scented soap, bath oils or foams, vaginal deodorants, disinfectants or any cream or moisturisers, as they might sting. You should wear cotton underwear to keep you cool.

Will the warts come back?
Warts usually start to go after just a few treatments. Sometimes they can take several months to go completely. However it is important to remember that the treatments are for cosmetic reasons only and they do not clear your body of the genital wart virus. Eventually your own immune system will clear the virus.

Should I tell my partner?
If you have genital warts, you should talk to your partner about it. Your partner should make an appointment to see a doctor and have a check up. However there is no actual test for genital wart virus so it’s just a case of being examined. We know you may find it hard to tell your partner you have genital warts, but please remember that sexual infections are very common. You could use this website to help you talk about genital warts with your partner.

NHS Health Scotland have produced an information leaflet on Genital Warts which can be accessed from:

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