Genital warts

Genital warts are growths on the genital area. They are a sexually transmitted disease (also called STD). An STD is a disease you can get from having sex with someone who has the disease. You can get an STD from vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Genital warts are growths on the genital area. They can look like small, skin-colored bumps or like clusters shaped like cauliflower. Genital warts aren’t always easy to see.

Genital warts are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (also called HPV). Some types of HPV, including genital warts, can increase your risk of cervical cancer.

About 1 out of 100 sexually active adults (1 percent) have genital warts. More than 6 million people in this country become infected with genital warts each year.

Can genital warts cause complications during pregnancy?

Yes. Hormone changes during pregnancy can cause genital warts to get bigger. They may grow so big that they block the vagina, making a cesarean section (also called c-section) necessary.

Very rarely, HPV can pass from mother to baby, causing warts to grow on the baby’s vocal chords.

How do you know if you have genital warts?

Even if you can’t see the warts, they may itch or burn. If you think you have genital warts, tell your health care provider.

Your provider may give you a prescription medicine to put directly on the warts. A prescription is an order for medicine written by a health care provider. If the warts grow large and uncomfortable, your provider can safely remove them during pregnancy with laser surgery or cryotherapy (freezing).

How can you protect yourself from genital warts and HPV?

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • If you’re younger than 26 and not pregnant, get the HPV vaccine. This vaccine protects against two types of HPV that cause most genital warts and cervical cancers. The HPV vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy.
  • Get tested and treated. If you find out you have genital warts, get treatment right away.
  • Don’t have sex. This is the best way to prevent yourself from getting an STD, including HPV.
  • If you have sex, have sex with only one person who doesn’t have other sex partners. Use a condom if you’re not sure if your partner has an STD. Ask your partner to get tested and treated for STDs.

Last reviewed: April, 2013