- Who Can Get It
- Complications and Side Effects
What are genital warts?
Genital warts are one of the most common of all sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Approximately 79 million Americans are infected with the virus that causes genital warts. Nearly one in 100 sexually active adults in the United States has genital warts.
Genital warts are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus has many strains that can cause contagious warts and some that can cause cancer. To get rid of your warts, your doctor needs to remove them surgically. It is essential to know the signs of genital warts and HPV so that you can get treatment as soon as possible. This also helps prevent your spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms of genital warts
Genital warts are growths on your genitalia that result from being infected by HPV. Symptoms for genital warts are generally the same for all people, except for the differences in anatomy. Warts can appear:
In people with vulvas:
- On the vulva
- On the vaginal walls
- On the perineum
- On the anus or anal canal
- On the cervix
- On the mouth
In people with penises:
- On the tip of the penis
- On the shaft of the penis
- On the scrotum
- On the anus
- On the mouth
These non-anatomically specific symptoms for genital warts are similar for all people:
- Cauliflower-shaped growths
- Itching or discomfort in the genitals
- Bleeding when you have intercourse
- Small pink, flesh-colored, or swollen brown areas
Causes of genital warts
External genital warts are caused by HPV. There are over 120 subtypes of HPV, but only about 40 of them can infect the area of the body known as the anogenital tract. These 40 types of HPV cause warts that generally take similar forms. They can be:
- Pedunculated (have a stalk or stem)
Who can get genital warts?
Anyone who has sexual contact with someone that has HPV can get genital warts. The human papillomavirus transmits when your skin contacts the infected area on someone that has it. For HPV to create warts on your genitals, this contact has to be on or around the genital area.
The virus is contagious and may be present on the skin of someone that has it. HPV can transfer through the touch of a hand or sexual contact.
Once the virus enters your skin, it combines with your skin cells and begins to multiply. This causes growths (warts) to form on the skin of the affected area. The virus can then exit the wart and spread to other areas of your skin or other people.
Warts don’t always form when HPV enters your skin. Your infected skin cells can release the virus without showing any symptoms. You will continue to pass HPV on to other people even without visible symptoms.
Diagnosis for genital warts
Genital warts are generally not harmful. Since they are contagious, it’s essential to see the doctor if you notice any symptoms. You can pass genital warts on to people without knowing it if they are not treated.
The human papillomavirus can cause cancer in some people. Both men and women can develop cancer from certain strains of HPV, but women are more likely to do so. It is essential to get treatment for HPV as soon as possible. See your doctor if you notice any signs.
When you see your doctor, they will ask you questions about your general health and ask about your sexual activity within the last few years. They’ll also ask about any previous sexually transmitted diseases you may have had.
The doctor will conduct a physical examination of your genital area, looking for signs of warts. If necessary, they’ll take samples for a biopsy and perform other tests to look for internal warts.
Some other tests the doctor might do are:
The Papanicolaou (Pap) smear is used to check a woman’s cervix for any infected cells. A colposcope is an instrument used to look inside the vagina and on the cervix for warts. To look inside the anus, the doctor might use an anoscope to look for any warts that might have spread inside.
The doctor will also have you contact any partners you have had and ask them to get tested for HPV and genital warts.
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Treatments for genital warts
Unfortunately, there is no cure for HPV. However, there is a vaccine for the virus that will help prevent infection .
If you’ve developed genital warts, your doctor has a few options for treatment. The fastest way to remove them is through surgery or to freeze them off with liquid nitrogen. Some doctors might use an electric current or laser treatment to burn off the warts.
Possible complications and side effects of genital warts treatments
Treating genital warts with surgery comes with the usual risks of infection. Wart removal is a relatively simple procedure. There are usually no side effects other than some post-surgical discomfort in the area. There may also be some pain if the warts were in a sensitive area.
If you contract HPV, you run the risk of transmitting it to someone else. Certain strains can cause cancer in both men and women. Types of cancer that can result are:
- Head and Neck
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Harvard Health Publishing: "Human Papillomavirus (HPV)."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Genital Warts."
Moffitt Cancer Center: "Infographic: HPV Vaccine is Key to Preventing Certain Cancers."
Office on Women's Health: "Genital Warts."
Office on Women's Health: "Human papillomavirus."
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