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Genital Warts

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Genital warts are growths that appear in or on the penis, vagina, or anus. Genital warts are spread during genital, anal, or oral sex. A woman can also pass them to a baby when she gives birth.

What increases my risk for genital warts?

  • Not wearing protection during sex, such as a condom
  • Multiple sex partners
  • A weak immune system caused by other STIs, HIV, or cancer
  • Smoking

What are the signs and symptoms of genital warts?

Genital warts are flat or dome shaped and can be pink, red, or brown. As the warts grow, your skin may itch or burn. Warts can be painful if they grow together. Over time the warts may look like cauliflower. They may feel moist and rough when you touch them.

How are genital warts diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your sexual activity. He or she will use a light to look at your penis, vagina, or anus. You may need any of the following tests:

  • An acetic acid test is when your healthcare provider puts a solution on the affected area. The solution turns the warts white.
  • A sample of one or more warts may be removed and sent for tests. The tests may show if you have a higher risk of certain types of cancer, such as cervical cancer.
  • A Pap smear may show if you have HPV or other cervical problems. A sample of cells from your cervix are collected and sent for testing.

How are genital warts treated?

Small genital warts may heal without treatment. In some cases, the warts can get bigger, or you may get more of them. Treatment can help prevent you from spreading warts to others and may help prevent cervical cancer in women. Treatment can also take away your symptoms and help you feel better. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines:
    • Immunomodulators help strengthen your immune system and treat genital warts.
    • Antiproliferatives help stop genital warts from growing in size or increasing in number.
    • Antivirals help control and stop virus growth, such as HPV.
  • Procedures:
    • Cryotherapy is used to freeze and destroy genital warts with liquid nitrogen.
    • Electrocautery is used to destroy genital warts with heat.
    • A laser may be used to remove larger or thicker genital warts. The laser uses heat to destroy the tissues around or near your warts. This treatment may help the areas heal without leaving scars.
    • Surgery with a scalpel, scissors, or other surgical tools may be used to remove the warts.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Do not touch or scratch the warts. This can cause the infection to spread to other parts of your body.
  • Do not have sex while you are being treated for genital warts. Medicine used on your skin weakens condoms and diaphragms. You also risk spreading genital warts to your partner.
  • Get regular Pap smears. If you are a woman, this can help diagnose HPV and prevent the spread of the virus.

How can I help prevent the spread of genital warts?

  • Tell your sexual partners that you are being treated for genital warts. They may also be infected and need treatment.
  • Get the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine is given at 9 to 26 years of age to help prevent cervical cancer and genital warts. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about this vaccine.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your genital warts return.
  • The skin that is being treated for genital warts is very painful or swollen.
  • You see or feel new warts on another part of your body.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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