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Sexual conditions health centre

Genital warts - Symptoms of genital warts

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Genital warts usually appear within two to three months of developing an HPV infection, but gaps of up to a year between HPV infection and the appearance of warts have been reported.

In women, genital warts usually begin as small, gritty-feeling lumps that become larger. In men, the warts look similar to warts that sometimes develop on a person's hands (firm and raised, with a rough surface).

A person can have a single wart, or clusters of multiple warts that grow together to form a kind of 'cauliflower' appearance.

Warts are usually painless, although some people may experience symptoms of itchiness and irritation, particularly if warts develop around the anus (back passage).

Some people experience bleeding from the warts during sex. However, it is recommended you avoid having sex until your genital warts are fully healed. See treatment of genital warts for more information.

Warts that develop near or inside the urethra can disrupt the normal flow of urine. The urethra is the tube connected to the bladder, through which urine passes.

Warts in women

The most common places for genital warts to develop in women are:

  • around the vulva (the opening of the vagina), which occurs in 2 out of 3 cases of genital warts
  • inside the vagina, which occurs in 1 in 3 cases
  • between the vagina and the anus, which occurs in 1 in 3 cases
  • around the anus, which occurs in 1 in 4 cases
  • on the cervix (the neck of the womb), which occurs in 1 in 10 cases
  • at the opening of the urethra, which occurs in 1 in 25 cases

Warts in men

The most common places for genital warts to develop in men are:

  • on the shaft of the penis, usually just below the foreskin, which occurs in about half of all cases
  • around the anus, which occurs in 1 in 3 cases
  • on the glans (the head of the penis), which occurs in 1 in 10 cases
  • inside the urethra, which occurs in 1 in 10 cases
  • under the foreskin, which occurs in 1 in 12 cases
  • between the anus and scrotum (the bag that contains the testicles), which occurs in around 1 in 30 cases
  • on the scrotum, which occurs in 1 in 100 cases

When to seek medical advice

Medical advice should always be sought if you suspect you have genital warts. There are three reasons for this:

  • It can be easy for people who are not healthcare professionals to mistake a growth, which may be serious, for a genital wart. Therefore, a medical diagnosis is strongly recommended.
  • All treatments for genital warts are prescription-only, so you will need to obtain a prescription to get treatment.
  • Some treatments should only be applied by a nurse or doctor with appropriate training.
Medical Review: May 28, 2012
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