Genital warts are one of the most common types of sexually transmitted diseases. Nearly, all people who are sexually active will contract this infection at least once in their life. This type of infection is caused due to human papillomavirus (HPV). Women are more prone to developing genital warts than men.
As the name of the virus implies, genital warts affect the soft, moist tissues of the genital parts. These warts are small, flesh-colored bumps or tend to have a cauliflower-like appearance. In most cases, these warts are just too small to be visible.
Like the other type of warts that bump on other parts of the body, genital warts are caused by the HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. Some types of genital HPV can also cause genital warts, whereas others could lead to cancer. Vaccines are quite useful in protecting against certain strains of genital HPV. Genital warts can cause discomfort, pain, and itching.
HPV is among the most common STIs. Men and women who are sexually active are vulnerable to HPV complications, including genital warts. The HPV infection is particularly dangerous for women as some types of HPV could cause cancer of vulva and cervix.
Symptoms of Genital Warts
Genital warts occur due to sexual activity, including oral, anal, and vaginal sex. You may not start to develop genital warts for several weeks or months after you have contracted the infection.
Genital warts are not always visible to the naked eye. They may be extremely small and be of the same color as of the skin or slightly darker. The top of the wart growth may be slightly bumpy, smooth or resembles a cauliflower. There may be just one wart or a cluster of warts.
Genital warts on men may appear in the following areas:
- Around or inside the anus
For women, these warts may appear:
- On the cervix
- Inside of the anus or vagina
- Outside of the anus or vagina
Genital warts may also appear on the tongue, mouth, lips, or throat of an individual who has had oral sex with someone who has HPV.
Even if you cannot see any genital warts, they may still cause some prominent systems, such as:
- Vaginal discharge
If you find genital warts spreading or becoming enlarged, the condition can cause severe pain or be extremely uncomfortable.
Causes of Genital Warts
Generally, genital warts are caused by HPV. There are 30 to 40 different types of HPV that particularly affect the genitals, but only a few of them cause genital warts.
HPV is highly transmittable via skin-to-skin contact, which is why it is considered as a Sexually Transmittable Infection.
In fact, HPV is extremely common that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that most sexually active people contract it at some point.
Nevertheless, the virus does not always lead to complications like genital warts. In fact, most of the times, the virus goes away on its own without causing any health issues.
Genital warts are generally caused by different types of HPV that differ from the strains that cause warts specifically on the hands or other body parts. A wart cannot spread from an individual’s hand to their genitals, and vice versa.
Major Risk Factors To Consider For Genital Warts
Any individual who is sexually active is at high risk of contracting HPV infection. Nevertheless, genital warts are more frequent among people who:
- Under the age of 30
- Have a weakened immune system
- Are children of a mother who had the virus during childbirth
- Have a history of child abuse
Possible HPV Complications
HPV infections are the prime cause of cancer in the cervix. It can also cause precancerous changes to the cervix cells, which is called dysplasia. The other HPV types may also cause cancer of the vulva, which are the external genitals of women. They can also cause anal and penile cancer.
Diagnosing Genital Warts
To diagnose genital warts, your physicians will ask vital questions about your sexual history and overall health. This includes symptoms you have experienced and how many times you have engaged in sexual activity, including oral sex, without oral dams or condoms.
Your physicians will also conduct a physical examination of different areas where you suspect warts perhaps be occurring.
For Women Only
As warts may occur deep inside a woman’s body, your doctor may consider doing a pelvic examination. They may treat the condition by applying a mild acidic solution, which makes these warts become more visible.
Your physician may also conduct a Pap test, also called Pap smear, which involves a swab to obtain cells from the cervix. These cells are later tested for the presence of the HPV.
There are certain types of HPV that may cause unusual results on a Pap test, which may show precancerous changes. If your physician is being able to detect such abnormalities, you may require frequent screenings to monitor any changes or something a lot more specialized like the colposcopy.
If you are a sexually active woman and are worried that you may have caught a type of HPV that eventually causes cervical cancer, your doctor may consider performing a DNA test in this regard. This will help determine what strain of HPV you have contracted. However, no HPV test for men is available as yet.
Treatment of Genital Warts
When you notice genital warts, they usually go away with time; HPV may linger in the skin cells. This means that you may experience several outbreaks over the period of time. So, managing symptoms are crucial as you want to avoid contracting the virus to others. With that being stated, genital warts can be transmitted onto others even when there are no visible warts or other related symptoms.
You would like to properly treat genital warts to ease the painful, uncomforting symptoms or try your best to derogate their appearance. On the other hand, you just cannot even treat genital warts with the help of over-the-counter wart treatments or removers.
Your physician may prescribe topical wart removers that might include:
- trichloroacetic acid, or TCA
- podophyllin and podofilox (Condylox)
- imiquimod (Aldara)
If you notice that these warts are not going away with time, your doctor may suggest minor surgery to remove them. Your physician may also remove these warts through:
- Laser treatments
- Burn warts with electric currents or electrocautery
- Freezing warts or cryosurgery
- Cutting off warts or excision
- Injections of the drug interferon
If you are a woman suffering from genital warts, you are required to have Pap tests every 3 to 6 months after you have had your initial treatment. This allows your physician to monitor if there are any changes in the cervix. Monitoring is crucial as you perhaps be at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. The types of HPV causing genital warts are generally considered low at risk for progression into cancer. Nevertheless, you may have contracted some other HPV strains, some of which do increase the risk of cancer.
Treating Genital Warts With Home Remedies
Do not consider using OTC treatments that are particularly used for hand warts on genital warts. Different types of HPV cause hand, as well as, genital warts. The treatments designed for other body parts are often much stronger than treatments used on the genitals. Wrong treatments could do more harm than any good.
Some home remedies have proved quite beneficial in treating genital warts; however, there are a few instances that actually support them. Ensure to always check with your doctor before trying on a home remedy to treat genital warts.
Is It Possible To Prevent Genital Warts?
HPV vaccinations such as Gardasil and Gardasil 9 can help protect both men and women from the most common HPV types that cause genital warts. Moreover, it also helps protect against various other types of HPV that lead to cervical cancer.
Another vaccination known as Cervarix is also easily available. This vaccine helps protect against cervical cancer but does not prevent genital warts.
People up to 45 years of age can have HPV vaccinations, and those as young as 9 years. The vaccination is administered in a series of two or three different shorts, depending on the age of the person receiving it. Both these vaccinations should be given before an individual becomes sexually active, as they are most effective before an individual is exposed to HPV.
Using dental dams or condoms every time you have sex can considerably reduce the risk of catching genital warts.
Genital warts occur due to HPV infection that is extremely common and curable as well. Warts may disappear over time, but their treatment is essential, which helps prevent possible complications and their return.
If you think that you have contracted genital warts, consult your doctor immediately. They can determine if you have warts and the best treatment options you have.
On the other hand, it is imperative to talk to your partner(s). This may be difficult, but you should open up to them about your condition. This can help you protect your partner from contracting HPV virus and genital warts.