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Home > Health Hub > Article > What are genital warts?

What are genital warts?

Maharani Devi Medical Center

Maharani Devi Medical Center

  Kalyan nagar, Bengaluru     Feb 9, 2017

   8 min     



Warts are small masses or growths that can grow anywhere on the body. They are caused due to viruses belonging to the Human Papillomavirus(HPV) family.

Based on the part of the body they are found in, they can either appear like a small blister or something that looks like a tiny cauliflower. Their appearance is based on where it's located, and also the thickness of the skin. If warts have black spots on them, that means there are blood vessels in there that could rupture and bleed. 

It mainly occurs in people with a weak immune system or children. 

Warts heal on their own, but it may take around 1 to 5 years for them to completely disappear. 

Some of the most common types of warts include flat warts, plantar warts, pigmented warts etc. Genital warts are also a type that occurs due to an HPV infection.

What are genital warts?

Genital warts or Condyloma acuminata are a sexually transmitted infection that causes small, pink or skin-coloured growths around or inside the anus or on the labia, at the opening of the vagina. The infection is caused by some low-risk strains of the HPV. While being infected by high-risk strains could cause cervical dysplasia or cancer.

Genital warts can be very painful and uncomfortable, while they also cause itching.

Causes of Genital Warts

The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes Genital warts. There are over a hundred different kinds of HPV, which can cause various types of problems. The prime cause of warts is due to HPV types 6 and 11, while the prime causes of cervical cancer are due to types 16 and 18. The wart-creating strains of HPV do not normally cause cancer.

In fact, HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that spread amongst the sexually active men and women. Women would pose a greater risk if they contract an HPV infection, as in certain cases, this could lead to cervical cancer or cancer in the vulva.

HPV circulates by direct skin-to-skin contact, including anal or oral sex, and any other contact involving the genital area or sexual intercourse, (e.g., hand-to-genital touch). By touching a toilet seat, it is not possible to become infected with HPV.

A lot of people with the virus do not have noticeable warts but can still carry the virus. Treating warts may not reduce the chance of spreading the virus. Therefore, all individuals who are sexually functional should be considered as possible sources of HPV, not just those with noticeable warts.

After being exposed to the virus, warts may appear weeks to a year or more, It is not generally possible to know how or when you became infected.

Symptoms of Genital Warts

Warts are pink or skin-coloured, and raised or flat with a rough texture or may be smooth. They aren't necessarily visible to the human eye. Some growths resemble a tiny a cauliflower and are smooth or slightly bumpy in texture

They are generally detected on the labia or at the opening of the vagina, but can also be inside or around the anus. In fact, these warts may develop a long time after contracting the HPV infection.

Many women with warts do not have any symptoms at all. Less often, there may be tenderness, burning, itching or in the genital area.

Genital warts on men can be found in the penis, scrotum, thighs, groin, or inside or around the anus. In the case of women, these warts can be found inside or outside the vagina or anus, or on the cervix. Both men and women could have warts on their mouth, tongue, lips, or throat, i.e. if the infected patient took part in oral sex with a person who had HPV.

Genital warts aren't necessarily visible, but if you notice the following symptom, please do visit a health professional.

If genital warts become enlarged or spread to other parts, the condition can be uncomfortable or even painful.

Risk factors for Genital Warts

There are few people who are at the risk of developing genital warts, based on their lifestyle, age, etc. Some of the risk factors include;

  • Being sexually active

  • If under the age of 30

  • have weakened immune system due to immunosuppressants, diseases like AIDS, etc

  • Have a history of child abuse

  • Children of infected mothers during birth.

Diagnosis of Genital Warts

Genital warts are detected based on an exam. Doctors also ask for your sexual history, and if you had unprotected sex, etc.  

If your doctor or nurse is not sure that the area is a wart, he or she may remove a small piece of tissue to conduct a biopsy. Doctors will also perform a physical examination in the areas that are suspected of having warts.

The diagnosis of warts in women is a little different from that of men. This is because warts could also occur inside the women's body, which would require a pelvic examination. A mild acidic solution will be applied to make warts more visible.

Women are also recommended to take a Pap smear, which involves taking a swab of the cervical area to test the cells for the presence of HPV. In the case of abnormal results due to HPV, the doctors seem the cells to be precancerous

To determine if the strain of HPV can cause cervical cancer, you can ask for a DNA test to determine the infected strain. Unfortunately, there is no way of determining HPV infections in men.

Treatment of Genital Warts

There are many methods to treat genital warts: some involve a procedure, and some involve a medicine. It is possible that warts could reoccur within a few weeks or months, even with treatment. This is because getting warts treated does not certainly get rid of the entire virus (HPV), causing warts

 Some cells in the vagina and genital skin may remain infected with HPV. Presently there is no treatment that will entirely get rid of HPV in all infected cells, but within two years, many people will clear the virus and warts with their own immune systems.

The best treatment for warts relies on how many warts you have, where they are situated, and you and your doctor or nurse's priority. Warts don't necessarily require treatment unless they happen to cause extreme discomfort and irritation.

Medical treatments involve liquids or creams that you or your nurse or doctor must smear to the wart. Use the prescribed medicines as per your doctor's instruction or a few times every week until warts entirely disappear. Your doctors may prescribe topical treatments that have imiquimod, podophyllin and podofilox or trichloroacetic acid (TCA).

If these ointments don't work then doctors remove warts using surgery or the following procedures.

  • Electrocautery, or burning warts with electric currents

  • Freezing warts through cryosurgery

  • Laser treatments

  • Cutting warts out of the body

  • Injecting the patient with interferon

Prevention of Genital Warts

There are few ways in which you can prevent contracting an HPV infection, which in turn ensures that you will not have to deal with warts.

Some of the prevention methods include;

HPV Vaccine

There are mainly two vaccines, Gardasil and Gardasil 9, that are handy for preventing genital warts. Gardasil helps prevent infection from 4 types of HPV (types 6, 11, 16, and 18), and Gardasil 9 adds five additional types of HPV prevention. These vaccines will aid in preventing most cases of genital warts (caused by HPV 6 and 11) as well as the occurrence of cervical cancer (caused by HPV 16, 18, and the other 5 HPV types).

Another vaccine, Cervarix, helps prevent infection from two different types of HPV (types 16 and 18). So, this vaccine is effective against cervical cancer, but the patient will still be at risk of developing genital warts.

All of these vaccines are safe.

Having Limited Sexual Contact

Shunning people who have genital warts or HPV can decrease your risk of becoming infected with HPV. However, in a realistic sense, this is tough as many people are infected with HPV and do not have any visible warts. And even if you wear condoms during intercourse, there are parts of the genitals that are not covered by the condom. Therefore, they aren't completely effective when it comes to protecting a person from sexual transmission of HPV.

If you have genital warts or HPV and you are concerned about infecting your sex partner, have a candid talk before you have sex. Clarify that you have HPV and that it is very frequent and a lot of people are without any symptoms of illness. 

There is no test for detecting HPV on the vulva. There is a test to find HPV on the cervix, but this does not scan for the type of HPV that causes vulvar warts. Cervical HPV and vulvar HPV are generally different.

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Tags:  skin,dermatology,viral infection,HPV infection, cervical cancer, genital warts, vulva cancer, Sexually Transmitted Infections,

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