Genital Warts

Genital warts symptoms and treatments

A sexually transmitted infection or disease (STI or STD), genital warts are soft, cauliflower-like growths, usually flesh-colored, that occur on the skin and mucus membranes of the genitals and anus.

As with most sexually transmitted diseases, people who have multiple sexual partners or engage in intercourse with a new partner without knowing his or her sexual history are at the greatest risk for contracting genital warts.

Genital Warts Causes

All warts, including genital warts, are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). There are over 100 varieties of HPV, and only certain strains cause genital warts. Over 90 percent of genital warts cases are caused by HPV types 6 and 11. However, up to 35 or 40 different types of HPV can be transmitted through sexual contact.

Genital Warts Symptoms

The most common symptom of genital warts is the appearance of one or more warts around the penis, vagina, or anus. Warts may also appear inside the vagina or anus, or along the shaft of the penis. Less commonly, warts appear at the cervix in women, on the scrotum in men, or in the mouth or throat of someone who's had oral sex with an infected partner.

It is important to note that a person could be infected for some time before warts appear, and even when warts are not present, an infected person can still transmit the disease.

Other symptoms of genital warts, though rare, include bleeding during or after intercourse, itching and/or increased dampness at the area of growth, and, in women, increased vaginal discharge.

If you experience symptoms, or if you believe you may have had sexual contact with an infected person, consult a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.

Genital Warts Treatments

Although there is no cure for the underlying infection, there are options for treating genital warts outbreaks.

Any treatment for genital warts should be administered by a doctor or under a doctor's care. Do not use over-the-counter wart treatments, as these are designed for other types of warts, particularly those on the hands and feet, where skin is much tougher.

Common genital warts treatments include:

  • topical applications (similar to those provided over-the-counter but specially formulated for the genitals and anus)
  • laser treatment
  • liquid nitrogen (a form of cryosurgery in which warts are frozen and then removed)
  • surgery
  • electrocauterization (in which blood flow is cut off so that the wart "dies")

Of course, prevention is better than treatment. While using condoms can help reduce your risk, it cannot protect you completely because the virus may be on the skin. Thus, knowing your partner's sexual history is essential. Get tested before beginning a sexual relationship with a new partner, and have him/her get tested, too.

Regular PAP smears may help detect instances of genital warts (particularly if they are internal) and HPV infection. There is also an HPV vaccine that can help protect against infection with certain strains, particularly those that lead to cervical and other gynecological cancers.