HPV and genital warts

Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI). They typically appear as fleshy growths in the tissues of the genitals of 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. Not all HPV infections cause genital warts, though. Some strains cause warts, 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 urged to get regular Pap smears, which check for signs of cervical cancer and HPV.

If you’re a woman with genital warts, you may wonder how they might affect you if you become pregnant. Read on to learn about risks and treatment for genital warts during pregnancy.

How does having genital warts affect my pregnancy care?

If you have any history of HPV, you should tell your prenatal care provider. You should also tell them whether you’ve 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’re pregnant.

If you don’t know whether you have HPV, your doctor will evaluate you for the virus as part of your prenatal care.

HPV vaccineThere are now HPV 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.

Are there any possible complications of genital warts during pregnancy?

Typically, genital warts won’t affect your pregnancy. However, 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 typically would. 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 enough 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.

The strains of HPV that cause genital warts haven’t been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage or problems with delivery.

What treatments are available for pregnant women?

There’s no cure for genital warts, but there are medications available that can treat the warts to make them less visible. Very few of these drugs, however, have been cleared for use during pregnancy.

If you have medications for genital warts that were prescribed before you became pregnant, you should talk to your doctor before using them. Your doctor may use a topical treatment to remove warts while you’re pregnant if they feel this is safe for you and your pregnancy.

You should never treat genital warts with over-the-counter wart removers. These treatments could lead to more pain and irritation as they are harsh, especially for applying on sensitive genital tissue.

If you have large warts that your doctor believes may interfere with delivery, it’s possible to have them removed. This can be done by:

  • freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen
  • surgically excising the warts
  • using laser currents to burn off the warts

What is the outlook for pregnant women with genital warts?

For the vast majority of women, genital warts don’t cause any problems during pregnancy. Also, the risk of passing the infection on to their baby is very low.

If you have genital warts or any strain of HPV and are still concerned about the possible effects on your pregnancy, talk to your prenatal care provider. They can tell you about any specific risks that you may have and what treatment might be best for you.