How Long Do Genital Warts Last?
Genital warts are one of the most common types of sexually transmitted infection (STI). You can get genital warts once you become sexually active, even if you only have one sexual partner.
There is no cure for genital warts, but they can often clear up by themselves after a few months. You can use a topical treatment, like a medical cream, to help the recovery process so your warts clear up quickly.
Your body will get rid of the virus that causes genital warts by itself. The symptoms of genital warts can last for months or years if not treated and you can have repeated outbreaks of symptoms if your body has not cleared the virus.
What are genital warts?
Genital warts are a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI). You can get genital warts from having unprotected sex, which is sex without a condom.
Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus can be spread through vaginal sex, anal sex or oral sex. You can pass on the virus even if you do not have any symptoms yourself.
There are several strains of HPV that can lead to different illnesses. HPV 6 and HPV 11 are low risk strains that can cause genital warts. High risk strains of HPV can lead to more serious conditions like cervical cancer.
Genital warts look like fleshy, skin coloured growths. The warts can appear small and form clusters with several others to look like cauliflower type growths. The warts can grow anywhere around your genitals, on your thighs or even in or around your bottom.
Other symptoms of genital warts include:
- itching or burning sensation
- if you’re a woman, vaginal discharge
If the warts become large and are inside your vagina or penis, you might notice you pee at a different angle. It might also be uncomfortable or painful to have sex.
In general, your doctor will diagnose you with genital warts by performing a physical examination. There’s no need to do a blood test or swab test to confirm the presence of warts.
How long do genital warts outbreaks last?
It can take a few months for a genital warts outbreak to clear, but this can be quicker if you use treatment. You might not get warts immediately after contracting the virus. This means that it is not possible to know when you first got the HPV virus, because it can be a long time before you first get any warts.
HPV can stay in your body for a long time, but your immune system will eventually clear it out. This means that over time you may experience multiple outbreaks of warts. You should get treatment for each episode and avoid sex until the warts have healed up.
Even if you wear a condom while having warts, your partner’s skin might touch the uncovered parts of your skin. This will spread the virus.
Will the warts go away?
The warts will eventually go away even though it can take some time. Your body will slowly get rid of the virus. Around 30% of people that get warts will notice them disappear without treatment after about 6 months.
Stubborn warts may need stronger treatment, such as freezing the warts off (cryotherapy) or laser surgery. To avoid the warts getting to this stage, you should get treatment as soon as you notice any skin growth around your genitals.
How to treat genital warts
Your doctor may prescribe topical treatment to clear the warts. These include podophyllotoxin and imiquimod. You should only apply these treatments to the warts and not other parts of your skin.
Imiquimod does not get rid of the virus itself but triggers your immune system to fight the virus. Imiquimod is available as Aldara cream.
Sinecatechins ointment is a third type of treatment that helps to stop the growth of cells affected with HPV.
These treatments need to be prescribed by a doctor or sexual health specialist.
You should not use over the counter wart treatment for genital warts. These treatments are used for warts that appear on your hands and feet.
What happens if genital warts are left untreated?
If you leave genital warts untreated, they may continue to grow which can be uncomfortable or even painful for you. In some cases, the warts may disappear on their own. They may also remain the same.
If left untreated, there’s always a chance you’ll spread the warts to other sexual partners. Getting treated is the best option for both you and your partner to avoid the discomfort and irritation of genital warts.
How to prevent spreading genital warts
You can prevent the spread of genital warts by practising safe sex and wearing a condom whenever having sex. If you or your partner is getting treated for warts, try to avoid having sex until after the warts have cleared up. This can take a while as warts can take some time to heal, so it’s best to get treatment to speed this process up. It is still possible to pass on the virus even if you do not have visible warts, but it is less likely.
You can also get the HPV vaccine to prevent yourself from getting genital warts. The HPV vaccine prevents strains of HPV that cause genital warts and other conditions including cervical cancer. It’s better to get the vaccine before you become sexually active as it’ll be more effective then. If you’re already sexually active, speak to your doctor or sexual health clinic to find out more about the HPV vaccine.
Dr Kathryn Basford
Dr Kathryn Basford is a qualified GP who works as a GP in London, as well as with ZAVA. She graduated from the University of Manchester and completed her GP training through Whipps Cross Hospital in London.Meet our doctors
Article created: 22 Jun 2022
Last reviewed: 22 Jun 2022
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How Long Do Genital Warts Last? What to Expect (Healthline) [Feb 2021] [accessed April 2022]
Warts – anogenital (NICE) [April 2017] [accessed April 2022]
(Reviews are for ZAVA UK)