Symptoms of Genital Warts

Genital warts have a variety of symptoms that can be quite obvious like small, rough lumps that appear around the penis, vagina, or anus (caused by the human papilloma virus). However, genital warts may not always cause symptoms, so you may carry and pass on the virus without realising.

In this article, we’ll cover the symptoms of genital warts, how to identify the disease, and what to do if you think you might have them.

A person in a black top holding their hands crossed over their genitals
Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Development

Medically reviewed by

Dr Babak Ashrafi

Last reviewed: 06 Sep 2023

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Genital Warts?

Genital warts are small, rough lumps that appear around the penis, vagina, or anus. They are sometimes described as being cauliflower-like in appearance and can appear flesh-coloured, red, or brown. They can appear on their own or in clusters. Although genital warts aren’t usually associated with other symptoms, they can be itchy, uncomfortable, and may sometimes bleed.

Symptoms in men

In men, genital warts may appear in the following areas:

  • penis
  • scrotum
  • groin
  • thighs
  • anus

If warts develop near or inside your urethra, the tube where pee leaves your body, it can make peeing painful and may disrupt the flow. However, this can happen in both men and women.

Symptoms in women

The signs of genital warts in women are small, lumps that appear in or around the:

  • vulva
  • vagina
  • groin
  • anus

Women may also experience discomfort peeing or notice a change in flow if warts appear in or around the urethra. Genital warts can also change the appearance of vaginal discharge or cause bleeding.

Genital warts and pregnancy

Usually, genital warts will not harm your pregnancy, but you may notice that they:

  • increase in size and numbers
  • become easily irritated

Although rare, there is a possibility that genital warts can be passed on to your baby during birth. The infection responsible for genital warts, human papillomavirus (HPV), can cause an infection in the baby’s throat or genitals.

If you are pregnant and have genital warts, you’ll often be referred to a sexual health specialist.

Can you have genital warts without any symptoms?

Yes, most people who are infected with HPV do not know they have the infection because they do not develop any signs or symptoms. Some people only find out they are infected when they develop genital warts, while others spread the infection even though they have no visible symptoms.

Where Can You Get Genital Warts?

Genital warts can appear on or around your genitals in areas that include your:

  • vagina
  • vulva
  • penis
  • scrotum
  • groin
  • thigh
  • anus

Can you get genital warts in your mouth?

It is possible to become infected with HPV in your mouth when it is spread through oral sex and deep kissing (kissing that involves the tongue or lasts for a long time). Oral HPV doesn’t cause any symptoms and is rarely tested for. In rare cases, oral HPV can cause an abnormal growth of tissue in the mouth leading to mouth cancer.

Can you get genital warts on your anus?

Yes, genital warts can appear on or around your anus. Genital warts are spread through sexual contact, so any direct contact with the anal area can result in the spread of genital warts.

Can you get genital warts on your face?

Genital warts caused by HPV can appear on your face.

All warts are caused by HPV and there are over 100 different types of the virus, but only a handful actually cause warts. Most cases of genital warts are caused by HPV types 6 and 11, whereas facial warts are caused by HPV types 1, 2, 4, 27, and 29.

Can you get genital warts on your hands, arms or legs?

You can get warts on your hands, arms and legs, but these are often common warts.

Rarely, warts on your hands may be genital warts.

How Soon Do Genital Warts Appear After Infection?

After you have been infected with the virus that causes genital warts, it can take weeks or even months before you notice any symptoms. If you have genital warts, you should tell your current sexual partners as they may have genital warts but not realise.

You may not have any symptoms but can still pass the virus on to your sexual partner(s).

Which Other Conditions Cause Similar Symptoms?

Warts are not the only condition that can cause bumps in the genital area. Other sexually transmitted diseases, like genital herpes, can also cause similar symptoms.

You may also be experiencing a noninfectious condition like a spot or a cyst. To know which condition is causing your symptoms, you need to consult a doctor – the sooner you know whether you have genital warts, the better. Early treatment will stop the warts from spreading. If spotted early, the warts can be treated with a topical treatment. Once the warts have spread, you may require a surgical procedure to have them removed.

Can genital warts be mistaken for herpes?

Both genital warts and genital herpes can cause lesions in or around the genital area, so may be mistaken for each other but they are caused by different viruses. Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital herpes is the result of the herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Genital warts usually cause small, flesh-coloured or reddish bumps to appear, either singly or in groups resembling cauliflower-like shapes, while genital herpes causes blisters or ulcers. Unlike genital warts, genital herpes can also make you feel unwell the first time you experience it, causing a fever or flu-like symptoms.

Once you have had an outbreak of genital herpes, the virus doesn’t leave your body, so you may experience multiple outbreaks over your lifetime, but they should become less severe until the outbreaks stop altogether.

If you are experiencing symptoms of genital warts or herpes, you should see a doctor for a diagnosis, so they can prescribe you the most appropriate treatment.

Can genital warts be mistaken for skin tags?

Genital warts can be mistaken for genital skin tags and vice versa because they may look similar. Skin tags are usually hanging bits of skin that are flesh-coloured and aren’t usually irritated or itchy like genital warts can be.

Genital warts often appear on or around your genital area while skin tags usually form where your skin folds such as around your eyelids, groin, or neck. Here are a few tips to help you distinguish between the two:

Genital skin tags

  • often develop stalks off of the surface of your skin
  • should be soft and able to bend easily when squeezed
  • can change colour from flesh-coloured to light brown to dark brown
  • can grow quickly but then stop

Genital warts

  • often flat or slightly raised bumps on your skin
  • can appear on their own or in clusters
  • can disappear and reappear elsewhere
  • may cause itchiness or bleeding

How Are Genital Warts Diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects you may have genital warts you may be referred to a sexual health clinic. Genital warts can often be diagnosed just by looking at them, but a doctor or nurse may:

  • ask you about your symptoms and sexual partners
  • need to look at the lesions around your genitals or anus – a magnifying glass may be needed
  • need to look inside your vagina, anus or urethra, to provide a diagnosis if your warts are internal

With our photo diagnosis service, you can get answers quickly without leaving your home. All you need to do is:

  1. Start an assessment and answer a few questions about your symptoms.
  2. Securely upload 2 photos of the affected area.
  3. A doctor will review your photos to check whether your symptoms are caused by genital warts and recommend a treatment.

You do not need a test to see if you have, or have been exposed to, genital warts.

Most people who are sexually active will have been exposed to them, and some will develop warts whereas others won’t.

How to Treat Genital Warts

Genital warts are either treated with medication or left to go away on their own, but it will depend on your symptoms and how you’re feeling. Treatment will also depend on where your warts are and their appearance.

Genital warts treatments:

Aldara is a prescription-only cream that contains the active ingredient imiquimod. It works by stimulating your immune system to fight the virus that causes genital warts. The cream is applied directly to the affected area and is applied 3 times a week for up to16 weeks. Research shows that Aldara cream is very effective for the treatment of genital warts.

Condyline is a topical solution that contains the active ingredient podophyllotoxin. It is applied directly to any warts and works by entering the nucleus of a wart cell, stopping it from growing and eventually killing it. Research shows that podophyllotoxin is 92% effective at treating warts.

Warticon is a cream that also contains podophyllotoxin, so works in the same way as Condyline. It is used to treat soft warts around the anus, penis or vagina.

These treatments can take a week to 4 months to work. If they do not work, you may need the warts to be frozen off or chemically or surgically removed.


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