Genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Although most sexually active people will become infected with a type of HPV in their lifetime, not all of them will develop genital warts.
The appearance of genital warts range from barely visible, flesh-colored bumps to obvious sores with a cauliflower-like shape.
Women are slightly more likely to develop genital warts than men. Vaccines can help protect against certain strains of genital HPV.
The most obvious symptom of genital warts is flesh-colored or gray areas that may be raised or flat. In women, they may appear on the vulva, the walls of the vagina, the area between the external genitals and the anus, the anal canal, and the cervix. In men, they may appear 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.
Other signs and symptoms include:
- Several warts close together that take on a cauliflower-like shape
- Itching or discomfort in your genital area
- Bleeding from the genitals during intercourse
Causes and Risk Factors
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the sole cause of genital warts. Genital HPV is spread through sexual contact, and most sexually active people have contracted the virus at one point. In the majority of cases, the virus is killed by the immune system and warts never develop. When the immune system is compromised, genital warts may appear.
Factors that can increase your risk of becoming infected with HPV and potentially genital warts include:
- Having unprotected sex with multiple partners
- Having had another sexually transmitted infection or disease
- Having sex with a partner whose sexual history you don't know
- Becoming sexually active at a young age
In some cases, in which genital warts are barely visible or don’t cause discomfort, treatment may not be needed. If itching, burning, pain, or visible warts are present, your doctor can help reduce or temporarily eliminate the symptoms. However, there’s no treatment for the HPV virus itself, so the warts are likely to recur.
Treatment options for the symptoms of genital warts include:
- Topical medication that’s self-applied or applied by your doctor
- Cryotherapy, which involves freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen
- Electrocautery, which uses an electrical current to burn off warts
- Surgical excision or surgical removal of warts
- Laser removal of warts
If you have noticed lesions on your genitals, are experiencing other symptoms of genital warts, or would like to be tested for HPV, the Urology specialists at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Houston have the resources to diagnose and treat your condition.