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What are genital warts?

The causes, symptoms and treatment of genital warts

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Genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) passed on through sexual contact. They are not serious but they can be unsightly and cause embarrassment and discomfort. 

 

What causes genital warts? 

Genital warts are caused by a type of human papillomavirus (HPV). This is a very common virus among sexually active people but most people won’t know they have it. You can catch genital warts from someone who has the virus but no visible symptoms. The thing to remember about genital warts is that they are passed on through skin to skin contact of the genitals. This means it’s possible to spread them even if you use a condom but they cannot be passed on via kissing or other types of touch.

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What are the symptoms of genital warts? 

Genital warts are usually easy to identify as they will be visible around your genitals. They look like small lumps and you might only see one or two, or there could be lots of them. Other symptoms include: 

 

  • Itching around the genitals

  • Bleeding around the affected area

  • Pain or burning

  • Disruption to the flow of your pee 

  • Your partner having warts

 

If you experience any of these signs and symptoms then visit your sexual health clinic. If you go to your GP it’s likely you’ll get referred to a sexual health clinic for treatment. 

 

How are genital warts treated? 

There are different types of treatments available for warts. You’ll usually be prescribed cream to apply for a couple of weeks. If this doesn’t work, you can have them frozen off or get surgery to have them removed. Some people find that their warts come back after treatment so you might need to keep trying. It’s best to avoid sex until your warts have gone away, or at least use a condom. Smoking can also have a negative impact on your treatment so it’s likely to work better if you avoid it. 

 

Will genital warts affect me if I’m pregnant? 

If you’re pregnant, you should tell your doctor that you have warts. They can get worse during pregnancy or trigger your first outbreak. They might need to be removed if your treatment hasn’t worked as large ones can cause problems during childbirth. In rare cases, it is possible to pass on the virus to the baby. 

 

How can you prevent genital warts? 

The best way to prevent genital warts is to get the HPV vaccine. This is available from young people aged 12-13 up until you’re 25. It protects against the high-risk strains of HPV which cause some types of cancer, such as cervical cancer and also protects you from genital warts. If you’re not in this age range, using a condom gives you as much protection as possible. 

 

What is HPV?

HPV, the human papillomavirus, is a group of viruses with more than 100 strains. It’s very common and easily spread through skin to skin contact during sex or sexual activity. You can’t cure HPV but in most cases, you probably won’t know you have it and your body will eliminate it within 2 years. 

 

Sources

NHS > Genital Warts: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/genital-warts/

NHS > Human Papillomavirus (HPV): https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/human-papilloma-virus-hpv/

Healthline > Genital Warts: https://www.healthline.com/health/std/genital-warts

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