Genital Warts

How are genital warts (human papillomavirus) diagnosed?

A Answers (2)

  • If the warts are visible, doctors may be able to diagnose genital warts by just looking at the symptoms. In some cases, though, diagnosing genital warts may be more difficult than it seems. This is because the warts aren't always visible, especially if they form inside on the cervix or inside the anus. In those cases, doctors may use colposcopy to diagnose genital warts. This involves putting a chemical stain in the area to make warts more visible, and then using a tiny magnifying tool to inspect the area for growths. Because women may have genital warts on their cervix without realizing it, it's important for women to get regular Pap tests to look for abnormalities that may be caused by genital warts.

  • AHealthwise answered

    A doctor usually can diagnose visible genital warts using your medical history and a physical exam. But not all HPV infections cause visible warts. If you don't have any visible genital warts or other symptoms, it may be hard for your doctor to diagnose HPV infection. Your doctor may ask you the following questions:

    • Do you think you were exposed to HPV or any sexually transmitted infections (STIs) ? How do you know? Did your partner tell you?
    • What are your symptoms? If you have discharge from the vagina or penis, it is important to note any smell or color.
    • Did you use condoms to protect against STIs?
    • Which sexual behaviors do you or your partner engage in, including high-risk behaviors such as sex with multiple partners?
    • Have you had an STI in the past? How was it treated?
    • Have you ever had an abnormal Pap test (for women)?

    For women

    After your doctor takes your medical history, you will have a gynecological exam, which usually includes a Pap test.

    A Pap test screens for abnormal cells on the cervix. Results of the Pap test may indicate an HPV infection even though you have no visible warts.

    Women over age 30 may get a screening test for HPV at the same time as a Pap test. This HPV test looks for the DNA (genetic information) of the virus. Women under 30 usually get the HPV test only if they have an abnormal Pap test.

    If your doctor finds areas of abnormal tissue on the cervix (which may be related to HPV infection), he or she may recommend treatment.

    For men

    After the medical history, you will have a physical exam for genital warts.

    Doctors do not recommend a screening test for HPV infection in men.

    For men and women

    Some experts believe that people who receive anal sex should have a screening for anal cancer, especially if they also have HIV infection. Ask your doctor whether and how often you should be tested.

    If visible warts are present, a diagnosis can usually be made without more testing.

    When your doctor finds abnormal tissue but cannot make a definite diagnosis, you may have a biopsy for lab tissue studies.

    Testing for the type of HPV that is causing warts is not useful for diagnosis. This test is not routinely done for diagnosis or treatment of genital warts.

    This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. To learn more visit

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