Genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that will affect almost half of all sexually active people at some time in their lives. The unsightly formations typically are only mild genital warts —they appear as soft bumps on the mucus and the skin of male and female genitals. Some have a cauliflower-like appearance and others may be too small to even see with the naked eye.
Genital warts are passed on through sexually activity, caused by the human papillomavirus, most commonly known as HPV. They can be found around the anus or directly on the vagina, penis, cervix, urethra or vulva. They can appear as a single wart or situated in clusters. Genital warts or other abnormalities in the genital area should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan as it may be a symptom or sign of a serious illness or condition.
Genital Warts vs Herpes
Though both are sexually transmitted and both appear as bumps on your genitals, herpes and genital warts bear little else in common. Whereas genital warts are caused by the HPV virus, of which there are about 70 different varieties, herpes are caused by HSV, herpes simplex virus. There are only two versions of HSV, the kind that appears on your lips or mouth, called herpes simplex 1 and the kind that you see on your genitals, thighs or buttocks known as HSV 2.
Another major difference is that there is no cure for herpes, while genital warts can be treated successful with medications or surgical removal. Side effects can be difficult for both conditions and can go unnoticed for long periods of time. HPV is difficult to predict, but herpes is manageable once you learn how to control outbreaks.
How Is HPV Transmitted?
If HPV causes genital warts, what causes HPV? The infection that leads to HPV warts and HPV bumps is transferred strictly through sexual contact that involves the vagina, anus or mouth. The HPV virus lies dormant for years, making it difficult to discover its origin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures that close to 6.2 million new cases of HPV are reported every year, increasing the odds that you may be exposed to the virus that causes warts at some time in your life.
Not everyone who comes in contact with the virus will develop warts. Of the many types of HPV, only a few kinds cause genital warts. Other types of HPV put you at risk for precancerous effects in your cervix and even can lead to cervical cancer in some cases. These high-risk HPV types also can cause vulvar or vaginal cancer, anal cancer, mouth cancer or throat cancer.
Symptoms to Watch For
Often, you can carry the HPV virus that causes warts and show no symptoms at all. Others may get the infection and not show any symptoms for anywhere from six weeks to six months later, another reason that makes it so difficult to pin down the source. You may see evidence of genital warts:
- As growths that look like the tops of little cauliflowers
- That are flesh-colored, raised or flat
- Inside the vagina
- On the penis
- On skin surrounding genitals
- In or around the anus
- On the lips, mouth, throat or tongue
In addition to the appearance of the warts, you may in rare cases also experience other symptoms, such as:
- Itching in the genital area
- Excessive vaginal discharge
- Dampness in and around the genitalia, near the warts
- Bleeding from the vagina during or immediately following sex
Do genital warts hurt? It usually depends on the size of the wart and its location. In most people, genital warts are mostly just unsightly and mildly uncomfortable if they are in an area that rubs against material or other skin when you move. For some, however, genital warts can burn, bleed or itch.
Sometimes, your doctor can’t even see the genital warts, which is why he might apply a solution to your genital area that causes the warts to whiten. The mild acetic acid allows the doctor then to view the growths under a special magnifying instrument called a colposcope. The procedure, called a colposcopy, allows your health care provider to then find and take a biopsy of the abnormal skin.
For women, diagnosis of genital warts typically involves a pelvic exam. The pelvic exam, or Pap test, can help detect any other cervical or vaginal changes that were caused by the genital warts as well as early warning signs of cervical cancer, which is a potential complication of a genital HPV infection.
Is HPV curable? Yes and in many cases the HPV virus goes away on its own, as the human body is designed to rid itself of certain invasive infections. Genital warts, on the other hand, must be treated carefully by a physician. Whatever you do, don’t try to treat genital warts at home with over-the-counter creams or medications.
After getting an affirmative diagnosis, allow your doctor to apply or inject you with medication. You also may rely on the doctor to provide you with a prescription-level ointment that you can apply at home. In a relatively easy and painless out-patient office procedure, your doctor also may treat your genital warts with:
- Laser therapy
- Freezing them off, called cryosurgery
- Burning them off, called electrocauterization
- Actual surgery during which you may receive a local anesthesia
Prevent the Spread
Once you’ve been diagnosed with genital warts, you must contact all your sexual partners and tell them about your condition. In turn, they should see a doctor for immediate treatment. Even if you end up with no apparent warts, but you know you’ve been intimate with someone who has genital warts, you should be treated to prevent the spread of the HPV virus and to avoid complications.
Genital warts caused by the HPV virus are the main precursor to cervical cancer, which is why so many young women choose to get tested even before they are sexually active. Genital warts also can grow and become large and much more painful than they are now.
While safe sex is the best way to prevent the spread of genital warts and HPV, two vaccines are currently available. The shots, given in sets of three, also prevent cervical cancer. They are recommended for girls ages 9 to 26. One of the two vaccines also can be given to males aged 9 through 26 to prevent anal and genital warts.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide Gynecology guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult obgyn doctor in New York about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified gynecologist or certified Gynecology specialist can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
Do you have questions about Genital Warts? Would like to schedule an appointment with the top Gynecologist in NYC, Dr. Pedram Bral, please contact our office.
Dr. Pedram Bral, Gynecologist (Gynecologist NYC, Midtown OB GYN)
New York, NY10010
(Between Madison Ave & Park Ave)
☎ (212) 533-4575