Genital Warts

Genital Warts is diagnosed and treated by Premier Medical Group.

What are genital warts?

Back to top

Genital warts are small, flesh-colored bumps, often with a cauliflower-like appearance, that usually appear on the skin around the moist tissue of the genitals and/or anus. In many cases, genital warts are too small to be visible. They are caused by certain types of human papilloma virus, known colloquially as HPV.

While some types of HPV can cause certain cancers, the type of human papilloma virus that causes genital warts is different. Still, HPV can be difficult to understand and treat. Genital warts are the most common STD, with around 360,000 people contracting them each year in America. They will often go away on their own. However, certain types of “high-risk” HPV can develop into more serious conditions. As a result, it is important to see a doctor if you believe to have contracted any type of HPV, regardless of the presence of warts.

What causes genital warts?

Back to top

Genital warts are caused by certain types of human papilloma virus, also known as HPV. There are around 100 types of HPV that can affect various parts of the body, and around 30 of them affect the genitals. This includes the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, and scrotum, as well as the rectum and anus. Of the 30 that affect the genitals, approximately 14 are “high risk” for developing cervical cancer. The other 16 are known to cause genital warts.

HPV is caused through skin-to-skin contact with another person who has an HPV infection. This contact can include vaginal, anal, and oral sex, but penetration does not need to happen for the infection to be transmitted. In most cases, the immune system will kill genital HPV before it has a chance to develop enough to cause symptoms.

It is important to remember that you may have the type of HPV that causes warts but never have any symptoms yourself. If this happens, however, you can still give this HPV to another person, who may then develop genital warts. As a result, it can be very difficult to know when you contracted HPV and who transmitted the virus to you.

What are the symptoms of genital warts?

Back to top

Genital warts are a symptom of certain types of HPV. The tops of the growths may resemble the texture of a cauliflower and may feel either smooth or bumpy to the touch. Warts can appear in clusters or as isolated growths. It can take several weeks, months, or even years after transmission for genital warts to appear, and they can be itchy, but they don’t typically hurt.

Some genital warts can be very small and the color of the infected person’s skin, making them difficult to see. If you cannot see the genital warts, you may still experience symptoms. This can include:

– Vaginal discharge
– Bleeding
– Burning
– Itching

It is important to remember that not all bumps on the genitals are warts. There are other infections and skin conditions that may resemble genital warts. The only way to know is to see a doctor as soon as a bump or wart appears.

How are genital warts diagnosed?

Back to top

Genital warts are most often diagnosed by a medical professional, who will perform a physical examination of any areas where the warts may occur. The doctor will also ask you about any symptoms you have experienced, when you have engaged in sex, and whether you used protection, such as condoms or oral dams.

People with female sex organs may develop warts in the vagina or on the cervix. Because these parts of the body are difficult to see, a doctor may need to perform a pelvic exam, applying a mildly acidic solution to help make the warts more visible. If you suspect you have HPV or a different type of STD, the doctor will also likely take a Pap smear, which involves swabbing the cervix for cells.

Back to top

You cannot treat genital warts with over-the-counter treatments. Instead, a doctor may prescribe topical treatments, such as imiquimod, trichloroacetic acid, or podophyllin. A doctor can also remove warts with electrocautery, cryosurgery, and laser treatments. Visible genital warts will typically go away on their own, but HPV can linger in the skin cells far after the initial outbreak. As a result, it is important to continue using protection during sex even after a wart has been removed.

Do not use hand wart treatments on genital warts. These conditions are caused by different strains of HPV, so using the wrong treatment may cause harm.

There are also several ways to prevent HPV transmission. Using protection, such as a condom or oral dam, during sex can significantly reduce a person’s risk of contracting genital warts. A vaccine known as Gardasil protects against four strains of HPV known to cause cancer, and it is also used to prevent genital warts. In 2014, a new vaccine was approved to protect against nine strains of HPV. These vaccines are most effective when given to children before they become sexually active.

When to see a doctor for genital warts?

Back to top

Talk to your doctor if you think you have genital warts. Only they can assess if you have HPV and what your best treatment options may be. If your warts are not severe, you and your doctor may decide to let your body’s immune system fight off the virus on its own. However, a doctor’s eye is essential to determining whether the growths are, in fact, genital warts and not something more severe.