Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI). They typically present as fleshy growths in the moist tissues of the genitals in both men and women, though many people never experience any symptoms.
Genital warts are caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common of all STIs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. Their data suggests the majority of sexually active adults will be infected by it at some points in their lives. It’s slightly more common among women than men.
Not all HPV infections cause genital warts, though. Some strains cause no symptoms at all, while others can cause cancer in both men and women. In particular, HPV causes the vast majority of cases of cervical cancer in the United States. This is why women are strongly recommended to get regular Pap smears, which check for signs of cervical cancer and HPV.
There are now vaccines available for most of the strains of HPV that cause genital warts and cancer. These vaccines are most effective when administered before a person becomes sexually active and are recommended for both boys and girls.
If you have any history of HPV, you should inform your prenatal care provider. You should also specify whether you have had genital warts or an abnormal Pap smear in the past. While HPV normally doesn’t affect you or your unborn child, your doctor will want to check for any abnormalities over the course of your pregnancy. Because so many cells are growing and multiplying during pregnancy, your doctor will want to watch out for any unusual growth or other changes. Additionally, some women develop larger genital warts than usual while they are pregnant.
If you don’t know whether you have HPV, rest assured that your doctor will perform a Pap smear as part of your prenatal care.
Typically, genital warts won’t affect your pregnancy. There are some cases in which complications could arise.
If you have an active genital warts infection during pregnancy, the warts can grow larger than they would ordinarily. For some women, this can make urinating painful. Large warts may also cause bleeding during delivery. Sometimes, warts on the vaginal wall can make it difficult for your vagina to stretch sufficiently during childbirth. In these cases, a cesarean delivery may be recommended.
Very rarely, genital warts may be passed on to your baby. In these cases, your infant will usually develop warts in their mouth or throat several weeks after birth. This is most likely to occur among young mothers who are infected with HPV late in their pregnancy.
The strains of HPV that cause genital warts haven’t been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage or problems with delivery. A recent study found that women with high-risk HPV infections (or, infections with HPV strains that commonly cause cervical cancer) were twice as likely to develop preeclampsia, which is a potentially dangerous complication of pregnancy. Women with high-risk HPV were also more likely to deliver prematurely.
There’s no cure for genital warts, but there are medications available that can treat the symptoms. None of them, however, have been cleared for use during pregnancy. If you have genital warts medications that were prescribed before you became pregnant, you should talk to your doctor before using them.
You should never treat genital warts with over-the-counter wart removers. These treatments aren’t safe for use on the genitals and could lead to more pain and irritation.
If you have large warts that your doctor believes may interfere with delivery, it’s possible to have them surgically removed. This can be done by freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen, surgically excising them, or using electric currents to burn them off.
For the vast majority of women, genital warts don’t cause any problems during pregnancy and the risk of passing the infection on to your child is very low.
If you have genital warts, or any other strain of HPV, and are still concerned about the possible effects on your pregnancy, you should talk to your prenatal care provider.