What is genital warts?

Genital warts: Overview

Genital warts are caused by a virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV). They are considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) because the virus can be spread by sexual contact. The warts often look like small, fleshy bumps or flat, white patches. They can be anywhere in the genital area. You can also be infected with HPV yet not have warts that can be seen.

Genital warts often go away on their own without treatment. Some people decide to treat them because of the symptoms or the way the warts look.

There is a vaccine for HPV. If you have not had the vaccine, ask your doctor if getting the vaccine is right for you.

Genital warts

Genital warts are skin growths on or around the genitals or anus. They are caused by a virus that's spread by sexual contact. Genital warts may continue to grow and spread, or they may go away with or without treatment. They often come back after treatment.

What are the symptoms of genital warts?

Genital warts can be different sizes and shapes. They may be large, or they may be too small to be seen. They may appear alone or in groups. Warts may look like tiny bunches of cauliflower or like flat, white areas that are very hard to see.

Visible warts appear only during active infection.

Genital warts may appear in the groin, on and around the genitals, in the urethra, or in the rectum or anus.

How are genital warts treated?

There are ways to treat genital warts. But the warts may come back because treatment doesn't kill the HPV infection that causes them.

Talk to your doctor if you want to treat visible genital warts. The warts usually go away with no treatment, but they may also spread. Some people decide to treat them because of the symptoms or because of how the warts look. But if you don't have symptoms and are not worried about how the warts look, you can wait and see if they go away.

If you decide to treat genital warts, talk to your doctor. There are medicines that you or your doctor can put on the warts. Or your doctor can remove them with lasers or surgery or by freezing them off.

Surgery to remove genital warts may be done when:

  • Medicine treatment has failed and the removal of warts is thought to be needed.
  • Warts are large.

How are genital warts diagnosed?

A doctor checks for genital warts by looking closely at the genital and anal areas. The doctor may ask you questions about your symptoms and risk factors. Risk factors are things that make you more likely to get an infection. Sometimes the doctor takes a sample of tissue from a wart for testing.

How can you care for yourself when you have genital warts?

  • If your doctor gave you medicine to treat your warts at home, use the medicine exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • To reduce the itching and irritation from genital warts:
    • Keep the warts clean and dry. You may want to let the area air dry after a bath or shower. This may feel better than a towel.
    • Avoid shaving an area where warts are present. Shaving can spread the warts.
    • Do not use over-the-counter wart removal products to treat genital warts. These products are not intended for the genital area and may cause serious burns.

How do genital warts and human papillomavirus (HPV) spread?

HPV and genital warts can be spread through sex or skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus. The virus can be spread to or from the genitals, anus, mouth, or throat during sexual activities. You can spread the virus even if you don't have symptoms.

What causes genital warts?

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Over 100 types of HPV have been found. Some types cause genital warts. Types 6 and 11 cause most genital warts.

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are skin growths in the groin, genital, or anal areas. They can be different sizes and shapes. Some look like flat white patches, and others are bumpy, like tiny bunches of cauliflower. Sometimes you can't see the warts at all.

Genital warts in teens: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • A genital wart hurts or spreads.
  • You want further treatment for your genital warts.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.