Genital Warts

Important

  1. Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  2. Genital warts affect both men and women, but women are more susceptible to complications.
  3. Genital warts can be treated, but they can come back unless the underlying infection is also treated.

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are soft growths that appear on the genitals. It is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Genital warts can cause pain, discomfort, and itching.

HPV is the most common of all STIs. Sexually active men and women are susceptible to complications of HPV, including genital warts. HPV infection is especially dangerous for women because some types of HPV can also cause cancer of the cervix and vulva.

Treatment is key in treating this infection.

What are the symptoms of genital warts?

Genital warts are transmitted through sexual activity, including oral, vaginal and anal sex. You may not start to develop warts for several weeks or months after infection.

Genital warts are not always visible to the human eye. They can be very small and the color of the skin or slightly dark. The top of the growths may resemble cauliflower florets and may feel soft to the touch or slightly bumpy. They can occur as a cluster of warts or just a wart.

Genital warts in men can occur in the following areas:

  • penis
  • scrotum
  • spoon
  • calves
  • in or around the anus

For women, these warts may appear:

  • vagina or anus
  • outside the vagina or anus
  • in the cervix

Genital warts can also appear on the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat of a person who has had sexual intercourse with someone who has HPV.

Even if you can’t see genital warts, they can cause symptoms such as:

  • vaginal discharge
  • itching
  • bleeding
  • burning

If genital warts spread or become large, the condition can be uncomfortable and even painful.

What causes genital warts?

Most cases of genital warts are caused by HPV. There are 30 to 40 strains of HPV that specifically affect the genitals, but only a fraction of these strains cause genital warts.

The HPV virus is highly transmissible through skin-to-skin contact, so it is considered an STI.

In fact, HPV is so common that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says most sexually active people get it at some point.

However, the virus does not always lead to complications such as genital warts. In fact, in most cases, the virus goes away on its own without causing any health problems.

Genital warts are usually caused by strains of HPV that are different from the strains that cause warts on your hands or other parts of the body. A wart cannot spread from someone’s hand to the genitals and vice versa.

Risk factors for genital warts

Any person who is sexually active is at risk of getting HPV. However, genital warts are more common for people who:

  • under 30
  • smoke
  • having a weak immune system
  • have a history of child abuse
  • children of mothers who contracted the virus during childbirth

What are other possible complications of HPV?

HPV infection is the main cause of cervical cancer. It can also lead to prior changes in cervical cells called dysplasia.

Other types of HPV can also cause cancer of the vulva, the woman’s external genitalia. They can also cause penile and anal cancer.

How are genital warts diagnosed?

To diagnose this condition, your doctor will ask questions about your health and sexual history. This includes the symptoms you experience and any time you have sexual intercourse, including oral sex, without a condom or oral dams.

Your doctor will also examine areas where you suspect warts are occurring.

only for women

Deep warts can form on a woman’s body, your doctor may need to do a pelvic exam. They can apply a slightly acidic solution that helps make the warts more visible.

Your doctor may also do a Pap test (also known as a Pap smear), which involves swabbing the area to get cells from your cervix. These cells can then be tested for the presence of HPV.

Some types of HPV can cause abnormal results on the Pap test, which may indicate prior changes. If your doctor detects these abnormalities, you may need more frequent scans to watch for changes or a special procedure called a colposcopy.

If you are a woman and are worried that you have contracted a type of HPV known to cause cervical cancer, your doctor may do a DNA test. This determines which type of HPV is present on your system. An HPV test for men is not yet available.

How are genital warts treated?

While visible genital warts often disappear over time, HPV itself can linger in your skin cells. This means that there may be several outbreaks in your lifetime. That’s why it’s important to manage symptoms because you want to avoid passing the virus on to others. However, genital warts can be passed on to others, even if there are no visible warts or other symptoms.

You may want to treat genital warts to relieve painful symptoms or minimize their appearance. However, genital warts cannot be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) wart removers or treatments.

Your doctor may recommend topical wart treatments, which may include:

  • imiquimod (Aldara)
  • podophyllin and podofilox (Condylox)
  • trichloroacetic acid or TCA

If visible warts do not disappear over time, minor surgery may be needed to remove them. Your doctor can also remove warts by:

  • electrocautery, or warts burned with electric current
  • cryosurgery or freezing warts
  • laser therapy
  • excision or cutting off warts
  • drug interferon injections

If you are a woman with genital warts, you may need to have a Pap test every three to six months after initial treatment. This allows your doctor to monitor changes in your cervix. Monitoring is important because you may be at higher risk for cervical cancer. HPV strains that cause genital warts are considered low risk for progression to cancer. However, you can also have other types of HPV, some of which can increase your risk of cancer.

home remedies for genital warts

Do not use OTC treatments for hand warts on genital warts. Hand and genital warts are caused by different strains of HPV, and treatments designed for other parts of the body are often much stronger than treatments used on the genitals. Using the wrong treatments can do more harm than good.

Some home remedies are considered helpful in treating genital warts, but there is little evidence to support them. Always consult your doctor before trying home remedies.

How to prevent genital warts

HPV vaccines, called Gardasil and Gardasil 9, can protect men and women from the most common HPV strains that cause genital warts, and may also protect against HPV strains associated with cervical cancer.

A vaccine called Cervarix is ​​also available. This vaccine protects against cervical cancer, but not against genital warts.

People up to age 45 can get the HPV vaccine as well as those younger than 9 years old. The vaccine is administered in a series of two or three shots, depending on age. Because both types of vaccines are most effective from exposing a person to HPV, they should be given before a person becomes sexually active.

Using a condom or dental dam every time you have sex can also reduce your risk of getting genital warts.

Coping and outlook

Genital warts are a common and treatable complication of HPV infection. They may disappear over time, but treatment is essential in preventing their return and possible complications.

If you think you have genital warts, talk to your doctor. They can determine if you have a wart and what the best treatment options are.

It is also important to talk to your sexual partner. This may sound difficult, but being open about your situation can help protect your partner against HPV infection and genital warts.

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