Genital warts are one of the most common types of sexually transmitted infections. At least half of all sexually active people will become infected with the virus that causes genital warts at some point during their lives.
As the name suggests, genital warts affect the moist tissues of the genital area. Genital warts may look like small, flesh-colored bumps or have a cauliflower-like appearance. In many cases, the warts are too small to be visible.
Like warts that appear elsewhere on your body, genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Some strains of genital HPV can cause genital warts, while others can cause cancer. Vaccines can help protect against certain strains of genital HPV.
In women, genital warts can grow on the vulva, the walls of the vagina, the area between the external genitals and the anus, and the cervix. In men, they may occur on the tip or shaft of the penis, the scrotum, or the anus. Genital warts can also develop in the mouth or throat of a person who has had oral sexual contact with an infected person.
The signs and symptoms of genital warts include:
Often, genital warts may be so small and flat that they can't be seen with the naked eye. Sometimes, however, genital warts may multiply into large clusters.
When to see a doctor
Female genital warts
Genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection. They can appear on the genitals, in the pubic area or in the anal canal. In women, genital warts can also grow inside the vagina. ...
Male genital warts
Genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection. They can appear on the genitals, in the pubic area or in the anal canal. ...
The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes warts. There are more than 40 different strains of HPV that specifically affect the genital area. Genital HPV is spread through sexual contact. In most cases, your immune system kills genital HPV and you never develop signs or symptoms of the infection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least half of all sexually active people will become infected with genital HPV at some point during their lives. Factors that can increase your risk of becoming infected include:
Preparing for your appointment
You'll probably first bring your signs and symptoms to the attention of your family doctor. If you are a woman, you may wish to schedule your initial appointment with your gynecologist.
What you can do
Creating your list of questions in advance can help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For genital warts, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Because it's often difficult to detect genital warts, your doctor may apply a mild acetic acid solution to your genitals to whiten any warts. Then, he or she may view them through a special microscope.
During a Pap test, your doctor will use a device call a speculum to hold open your vagina. He or she will then use a long-handled tool to collect a small sample of cells from your cervix — the passage between your vagina and your uterus. The cells are examined with a microscope for abnormalities.
In a Pap test, your doctor uses a vaginal speculum to hold your vaginal walls apart. Next, a sample of cells from your cervix is collected using a small cone-shaped brush and a tiny wooden spatula (1 ...
Treatments and drugs
If your warts aren't causing discomfort, you may not need treatment. But if your symptoms include itching, burning and pain or if visible warts are causing emotional distress, your doctor can help you clear an outbreak with medications or surgery. However, the lesions are likely to recur after treatment.
Don't try to treat genital warts with over-the-counter wart removers. These medications aren't intended for use in the moist tissues of the genital area. Using over-the-counter medications for this purpose can cause even more pain and irritation.
Using a condom every time you have sex can significantly reduce your risk of contracting genital warts.
Vaccination now available
The national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 and 12. If not fully vaccinated at that age, it’s recommended that girls and women through age 26 and boys and men through age 21 receive the vaccine. However, men may receive the HPV vaccine through age 26 if desired. These vaccines are most effective if given to children before they become sexually active.
Last Updated: 2012-01-20
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