Genital Warts: Symptoms, Preventions & Treatments

Genital warts

Genital warts are soft growths on the skin and mucus membranes of the genitals. They may be found on the penis, vulva, urethra, vagina, cervix, and around and in the anus.

Genital warts are spread through sexual contact.

What are Genital Warts?

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

What Are the Symptoms of Genital Warts?

Common genital warts symptoms are flesh-colored, soft-to-the-touch bumps on the skin that may look like the surface of a cauliflower. They often grow in more than one place and may cluster in large masses. Genital warts usually are painless, but they may itch.

You might see or feel genital warts in your vagina or on your vulva, cervix, penis, anus, or urethra. It is also possible  but not very likely to have them in your mouth, on the lips, tongue, and palate, or in the throat.

Genital warts usually develop 6 weeks to 6 months after infection. But it may take longer.

They often grow more rapidly during pregnancy or when a person’s immune system is weakened by

  • chemotherapy
  • diabetes
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • taking anti-rejection drugs after an organ transplant

What causes Genital Warts?

Genital warts are caused by an infection of the skin of the genital and anal area with the human papilloma virus (HPV).

There are over 100 different types of HPV which can affect different parts of the body, including the hands and feet (a wart on the foot is called a verruca). Approximately 30 types of HPV can live in and around the genital and anal areas but most genital warts are caused by just two types of virus (types 6 and 11).

How do Genital Warts spread?

Genital warts can be spread during vaginal or anal sex, and by sharing sex toys. But you don’t need to have penetrative sex to pass the infection on because HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact.

It can take months, or even years, for warts to develop after infection with HPV. So if you’re in a relationship and you get genital warts, it does not necessarily mean your partner has been having sex with other people.

HPV is most likely to be transmitted to others when warts are present, although it is still possible to pass the virus on before the warts have developed and after they have disappeared.

Condoms do not provide complete protection because it is possible for the skin around your genital area not covered by the condom to become infected.

Complications of genital warts

  • Cancer – HPV infection has been closely association with cervical cancer, as well as cancer of the vulva, anus and penis. The majority of cervical cancers globally are caused by HPV infection. Even though not all HPV infections lead to cervical cancer, it is crucial for a woman’s long-term health that she has regular Pap tests. This study revealed that some HPV infections are also closely linked to head and neck cancers.Another report says that HPV is also linked to oral cancer.
  • Pregnancy problems – pregnant women who have genital warts may have problems urinating. If there are warts on the vaginal wall her vaginal tissues may stretch less during childbirth. There is a very small risk that a mother with genital warts when she gives birth may cause the baby to have warts in his/her throat (laryngeal papillomatosis) – when this does happen surgery may be needed to prevent the airway from becoming obstructed.Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy may cause genital warts to grow, bleed, or increase in number.

Treatments for Genital Warts

Genital warts must be treated by a doctor. Do not use over-the-counter medicines meant for other kinds of warts.

Treatment may include:

  • Medicines applied to your skin or injected by your doctor
  • Prescription medicine that you apply at home several times a week

The warts may also be removed with minor procedures, including:

  • Freezing (cryosurgery)
  • Burning (electrocauterization)
  • Laser therapy
  • Surgery

If you have genital warts, all of your sexual partners must be examined by a health care provider and treated if warts are found. Even if you do not have symptoms, you must be treated. This is to prevent complications and avoid spreading the condition to others.

You will need to return to your health care provider after treatment to make sure all the warts are gone.

Regular Pap smears are recommended if you are a woman who has had genital warts, or if your partner had them. If you had warts on your cervix, you may need to have Pap smears every 3 to 6 months after the first treatment.

Women with precancerous changes caused by HPV infection may need further treatment.

Home remedies for Genital Warts

You should not use OTC treatments meant for hand warts on genital warts. Hand and genital warts are caused by different strains of HPV. Using the wrong treatments may do more harm than good.

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

Preventions from Genital Warts

It is possible to get genital warts and other sexually transmitted infections by having sex with someone who has the infection but no symptoms.

The following measures will help protect you from genital warts and most other sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhoea. If you have a sexually transmitted infection they will also help prevent you from passing it on to your partner.

  • Use condoms (male or female) every time you have vaginal or anal sex. They can help protect you against other sexually transmitted infections and may provide some protection against getting, or passing on, genital warts, particularly if they are used while the warts are present and for the first three months after the warts have gone.
  • If you have oral sex, use a condom to cover the penis, or a polyurethane (soft plastic) square to cover the female genitals or male or female anus.
  • If you are a woman and rub your vulva against your female partner’s vulva one of you should cover the genitals with a latex or polyurethane square.
  • If you are not sure how to use condoms correctly see our information on condoms.
  • Avoid sharing sex toys. If you do share them, wash them or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.

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