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Home / STIs / Genital Warts / What do genital warts look like?

What do genital warts look like?

Learn more about how to identify genital warts

Genital warts are small skin growths that appear on, or around, the genital area. They can also sometimes be found on the thighs, buttocks, or in the pubic area, as well as the mouth or throat.

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 100 types of HPV, though only two of these (HPV 6 and HPV 11) cause genital warts. They are usually harmless and don't cause any symptoms, however they can be itchy and uncomfortable. In some cases, they can also lead to pain during sex or urination.

Woman holding a HPV sign in front of groin area

Not all HPV infections are harmless. HPV 16 and HPV 18 are the two strains of HPV that are known to cause cervical cancer, however they do not cause genital warts.

If you’re a woman, regular pap smear tests are recommended, so you can keep an eye on any abnormalities, and of course, regardless of your gender, you should avoid having unprotected sex. HPV vaccine (Gardasil) is also available and offered to young women via the NHS.

Genital warts are highly contagious and can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact. HPV is very common and is thought to affect up to 80% of people who are sexually active at some point in their lives.

How do I recognise genital warts?

There's no one answer to this question, as genital warts can vary in appearance from person to person. They may be small or large, and they can be lumpy or may resemble a cauliflower. Some people have just a few warts, while others may have hundreds. In general, though, genital warts tend to be fairly small (usually no more than a few millimetres in diameter) and have a slightly raised or bumpy texture.

Where can genital warts appear on the body?

Genital warts can appear on the vulva, labia, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, or anus, though they can also be found around the genital area. They can sometimes be found in the mouth or throat, though this is quite rare. Genital warts are usually clustered together in a group, but they can also occur individually.

What do genital warts feel like?

Another way to tell if you have genital warts is to look for any changes in your skin. If you notice any itching, burning, or bleeding in the area where the bumps are located, it is likely that you have genital warts. It is also important to keep an eye out for any changes in the size or shape of the bumps. If they seem to be growing or spreading, this is also a sign that you may have genital warts. Any growth or spreading may indicate that the genital warts won’t go away by themselves, so it is imperative to seek the advice of a medical professional.

Genital warts images

Genital warts may appear differently from person to person. To get an idea of what they look like, please see the images below.

Is it genital warts, a skin tag, a mole, or genital herpes?

Not all bumps and skin growths are indicative of HPV infection, and as such, it can sometimes be difficult to identify whether it’s genital warts or something else.

While genital warts tend to appear in clusters, sometimes there can be only a few of them or even just one wart. Here are some major differences between genital warts and other skin growths that can help in recognising whether you’re dealing with an HPV infection.

Skin tags vs genital warts

Skin tags are prone to appearing in the folds, which include the genital area, so they can sometimes be mistaken for genital warts. This is especially true for women, as some skin tags can appear flatter around the genital area, much like genital warts. Unlike genital warts, skin tags will not irritate or itch, and will not bleed, unless ripped or suddenly removed. Genital warts can bleed and cause discomfort, which is a major indicator that it isn’t a skin tag.

Unlike genital warts, which are caused by a virus, most skin tags develop on their own. Genital warts may progress over time and develop into clusters, while skin tags will not. Unlike genital warts, skin tags usually grow outwards and are connected to the skin by a short stalk. Genital warts, on the other hand, are raised bumps that lie flat on the top of the skin. Your skin tags should not be painful or bothersome, while genital warts might itch or cause general discomfort, and this is a good way of telling them apart.

Genital warts vs moles

Moles, on the other hand, can appear all over the body, including the genital area. Much like skin tags or genital warts, they can be confused with one another. Moles, on the other hand, are usually well-defined and symmetrical, and they don’t cluster up. They are generally of no concern unless they become bothersome or turn cancerous.

If you do notice a mole on your genital area, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it, and report any changes in size, colour or shape to your doctor.

Genital warts vs herpes

It can sometimes be difficult to tell genital herpes apart from genital warts, as they both appear in or around the genital area, and most often in clusters. However, unlike genital warts, which tend to be small bumps that are usually flesh coloured, herpes outbreaks look like blisters and sometimes open sores. Despite being itchy and painful, herpes tends to look red and irritated, while genital warts are usually white or flesh-colored.

How are genital warts diagnosed and what should be done about them?

Unlike skin tags and moles, genital warts are very contagious and spread via skin to skin contact, usually during sexual intercourse. Remember, HPV is a sexually transmitted infection and thus, the best way to protect yourself from contracting genital warts is by wearing protection. Although genital warts are contracted via skin to skin contact, a condom does not always cover all places where they can be found, so condoms are not 100% effective. The best course of action is to not engage in sexual intercourse if you suspect that either you or your partner have genital warts.

If you are unsure whether you have genital warts, it is always best to consult a healthcare professional and get tested at your nearest sexual health clinic. They will look at the bumps and make a diagnosis. A biopsy may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis, though this is rare.

Treatment for genital warts will vary depending on the severity of the infection. In some cases, no treatment may be necessary. The warts may go away on their own over time. In other cases, topical treatments or surgery may be required to remove the warts.

If you're concerned that you may have genital warts, the best thing to do is to see a doctor or other healthcare provider for a diagnosis. They can look at your symptoms and perform diagnostic tests where necessary. There are plenty of treatment options available if you do have genital warts, so don't delay in seeking medical help if you're worried about them.

How are genital warts treated?

Genital warts can be treated either by prescription medication or by surgery. Surgical removal of warts may entail freezing (cryotherapy), laser, surgical removal, loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) and cold knife conisation. Most genital warts can be treated with a topical prescription medicine, while surgery is reserved mostly for exceptionally large warts, or for women during pregnancy.

The most common prescription treatments for genital warts are:

You can get a prescription for these genital wart treatments and buy them online at euroClinix. All you need to do is complete a quick medical form online that one of our doctors will review. If they approve you for treatment, you will receive your medicines via mail as quickly as the following day.

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