What Do Genital Warts Look Like?

Learn How to Recognize the Signs of Genital Warts

Doctor having conversation with patient in waiting room
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People concerned about whether they have been exposed to the virus that causes genital warts may want to know what to look for. Genital warts, also known as condyloma acuminata or venereal warts, are caused by the commonly transmitted ​human papillomavirus (HPV). However, while HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, a vaccine was approved in 2006 to prevent infection. The Gardasil vaccine is recommended for people of both sexes ages nine through 26.

The HPV virus is generally transmitted during sexual activity when the virus penetrates the skin and mucous membranes through microscopic openings in those surfaces. After exposure, an incubation period takes place. During this time, there are no signs or symptoms of infections. Usually, this period lasts about three months, but in many cases, it can last years. 

Location of Genital Warts

When symptoms of HPV are present, they are often invisible to the untrained and unmagnified eye. In some cases, genital warts never appear or can appear years after contracting the virus. When visible warts do appear, they typically appear as flesh-toned or gray growths that are raised or flat on, in and around the genitals. They can grow in clusters that resemble cauliflower, or they can appear singularly.

In women, these warts appear inside and outside of the vagina as well as on the inner thighs. They can also appear on the anal region, growing in and outside of the anus.

In men, genital warts can appear on the penis, scrotum, testicles, anus, groin, and thighs.

Appearance of Genital Warts

Many pictures of genital warts circulate on the Internet. These are often extreme cases that are so severe that they block the vaginal and anal openings. Please note that cases such as these are uncommon, and these photos should not be used to compare with your personal symptoms.

If you suspect that you may have genital warts, see your doctor. It is never a good idea to self-diagnose any condition!

As mentioned above, some warts are not readily visible to the naked eye. Doctors may use a technique known as acetol whitening, in which a solution of 5 percent acetic acid is applied to suspicious areas. After about ten minutes, these areas will become white if they contain genital warts. 

In addition, magnification using colposcopy can help doctors visualize lesions inside the vagina and on the cervix. If any suspicious areas are found, a biopsy can confirm the presence of HPV and identify the viral subtype. 

When genital warts become visible, their appearance can vary dramatically. They can range in size from less than 1 millimeter to several centimeters in diameter if a cluster of warts merges together. Genital warts can be smooth or rough (cauliflower-like), flat or raised, and may have fingerlike projections.

Pictures of Genital Warts

Please note that these are graphic images that show male and female genitalia in detail.

Male Genital Warts Photos:

Female Genital Warts Photos:

Sources:

Centers for Disease and Prevention."Sexually Transmitted Disease Guidelines 2006." Sep 2006. 01 May 2008.

National Immunization Program. "HPV Vaccine Q and A." 07 July 2006. Centers for Disease Control. 01 May 2008.

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