What are genital warts?
Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). They are soft skin growths that can cause itching, discomfort and severe pain. They are especially dangerous for women because some types of HPV can also cause cancer of the cervix and vulva.
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What are the symptoms of genital warts?
Genital warts are transmitted through sexual activity. You may not show any symptom after infection for several weeks.
The warts are not always visible to the human eye. They may be very small and assume the color of the skin or slightly darker. The top of the growths may resemble a cauliflower and may feel smooth or slightly bumpy to the touch. An infected person may have a cluster of warts, or just one wart.
In men, genital warts may appear on the following areas; penis, groin, scrotum, thighs and inside or around the anus.
In women, genital warts may appear inside/outside the vagina or anus, and cervix.
Genital warts may also appear on the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat of a person who has had oral sexual contact with an infected person.
Genital warts, they may still cause symptoms, such as:
- unusual vaginal discharge
- severe itching
If genital warts spread or become enlarged, the condition can be uncomfortable or even painful.
What causes genital warts?
Most cases of genital warts are caused by HPV, there are more than 70 types of HPV that affect the genitals. The HPV virus is highly contagious through skin-to-skin contact, which is why it is considered an STI.
Genital warts are caused by different strains of HPV that cause warts on your hands or other parts of the body that don’t include the genital. A wart can’t spread from someone’s hand to the genitals, and vice versa.
Risk factors for genital warts
Any sexually active person is at risk for HPV. Genital warts are most likely to affect a person who:
- have weak immune system
- have a history of child abuse
- if their mother had the virus during childbirth
- are under the age of 30
How are genital warts diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical examination of any areas where you suspect warts may be occurring. Because warts can be deep inside the body for women, your physician may need to perform a pelvic examination. They may apply a mild acidic solution, which helps to make the warts more noticeable.
A Pap smear which involves taking a swab of the area to obtain cells from your cervix will be performed by your doctor. The swab can then be tested for the presence of HPV. Certain types of HPV may cause abnormal results on a Pap smear, which may indicate precancerous changes. If your doctor detects these irregularities, you may need more regular screenings to monitor any changes.
If you are concerned you may have contracted a form of HPV known to cause cervical cancer, your physician can perform a DNA test. This determines what strain of HPV you have in your system.
How are genital warts treated?
The HPV virus causing your warts cannot be eliminated once it is in your bloodstream. Though visible genital warts often go away with time. This means you may have several occurrences over the course of your life. Genital warts can be passed on to others even when there are no visible symptoms.
Genital warts cannot be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments, though you may want to treat genital warts to ease painful symptoms or to reduce their appearance.
Your doctor may prescribe topical wart treatments that might include:
- imiquimod (Aldara)
- podophyllin and podofilox (Condylox)
- trichloroacetic acid (TCA)
If visible warts do not go away with time, surgery may be required to remove them. Your physician can remove the warts through:
- electro-cautery, or burning warts with electric currents
- freezing warts
- laser treatments
- cutting off warts
- Interferon injections
Women who have been diagnosed with genital warts may require Pap smears every 3 to 6 months after their initial treatment to monitor any changes in the cervix. This is because certain types of HPV that cause genital warts are also associated with cervical and precancerous changes in the cervix.
Home remedies for genital warts
OTC treatments meant for hand warts should not be used on genital warts. Hand and genital warts are caused by different strains of HPV. Using the wrong treatments may worsen the symptoms.
Some home remedies for treating genital warts are considered helpful. Always consult your doctor before trying a home remedy.
How to prevent genital warts
- An HPV vaccine called Gardasil can protect men and women from the most common HPV strains that are responsible for genital warts, and can also protect against strains of HPV that are connected to cervical cancer.
- A vaccine called Cervarix can protect against cervical cancer, but not against genital warts.
- Men and women up to age 26 can receive the HPV vaccine. It can also be given as early as age 9, and comes in a round of three different shots. These vaccines should be administered before becoming sexually active, as they are most effective before a person is exposed to HPV.
- Endeavour to use a condom every time you engage in sexual intercourse as it can reduce your risk of contracting genital warts.