Genital warts are soft growths that appear on the genitals. They can cause pain, discomfort, and itching.
Genital warts a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by certain low-risk strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). These are different from the high-risk strains that can lead to cervical dysplasia and cancer.
HPV is the most common of all STIs. Men and women who are sexually active are vulnerable to complications of HPV, including genital warts. HPV infection is especially dangerous for women because some types of HPV can also cause cancer of the cervix and vulva.
Treatment is key in managing this infection.
What Are the Symptoms of Genital Warts?
Genital warts are transmitted through sexual activity, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex. You may not start to develop warts for several weeks or months after infection.
Genital warts aren’t always visible to the human eye. They may be very small and the color of the skin or slightly darker. The top of the growths may resemble a cauliflower and may feel smooth or slightly bumpy to the touch. They may occur as a cluster of warts, or just one wart.
Genital warts on males may appear on the following areas:
- inside or around the anus
For females, these warts may appear:
- inside of the vagina or anus
- outside of the vagina or anus
- on the cervix
Genital warts may also appear on the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat of a person who has had oral sexual contact with a person who has HPV.
Even if you can’t see genital warts, they may still cause symptoms, such as:
- vaginal discharge
If genital warts spread or become enlarged, the condition can be uncomfortable or even painful.
What Causes Genital Warts?
Most cases of genital warts are caused by HPV. There are 30 to 40 strains of HPV that specifically affect the genitals, but just a few of these strains cause genital warts.
The HPV virus is highly transmittable through skin-to-skin contact, which is why it’s considered an STI.
In fact, HPV is so common that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that most sexually active people get it at some point.
However, the virus doesn’t always lead to complications such as genital warts. In fact, in most cases, the virus goes away on its own without causing any health problems.
Genital warts are usually caused by strains of HPV that differ from the strains that cause warts on your hands or other parts of the body. A wart can’t spread from someone’s hand to the genitals, and vice versa.
Risk Factors for Genital Warts
Any sexually active person is at risk of getting HPV. However, genital warts are more common for people who:
- are under the age of 30
- have a weakened immune system
- have a history of child abuse
- are children of a mother who had the virus during childbirth
What Are Other Possible Complications of HPV?
HPV infection is the main cause of cancer in the cervix. It can also lead to precancerous changes to the cells of the cervix, which is called dysplasia.
Other types of HPV may also cause cancer of the vulva, which are the external genital organs of women. They can also cause penile and anal cancer.