Genital warts are growths on the skin and mucus membranes that feel soft to the touch and can b located anywhere in the genital areas. They can be on the vulva, vagina, cervix, anus, penis, or urethra. Genital warts are a common type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) and caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). You may not notice the genital warts if they are on your cervix or anus until you get a physical examination, such as an annual pap smear.
Causes of Genital Warts
The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the main cause of genital warts. There are more than 70 million types of this virus, though not all types will cause genital warts. However some types of HPV can lead to cancerous changes in the cervix, cervical cancer, and anal cancer; these are known as the high risk types of HPV. Genital warts are spread through sexual contact, such as from sexual intercourse or oral sex. You are at a higher risk for genital warts if you have multiple sex partners, have unprotected sex, are sexually active at a young age, use tobacco or alcohol, have a viral infection, are pregnant, or have a weak immune system.
Symptoms of Genital Warts
In many cases, the person with genital warts doesn’t even realize they have them because they are so tiny or in innocuous places on the genitals. Some symptoms of genital warts include raised or flat spots on the genitals that are flesh-colored or growths on the genitals that look like the top of a cauliflower. While they are more commonly on the genitals, these warts can also spread to the scrotum, thighs, anus, lips, mouth, tongue and throat. Other symptoms include increased vaginal discharge, dampness near the genital warts, itching and bleeding of the genital area.
Diagnosing Genital Warts
A physical exam is the first step of diagnosing genital warts. With women, they are often not seen until she gets a pelvic exam. Your doctor may also need to perform a colonoscopy to view the warts more closely. You may also get a HPV DNA test to find out if you have a high-risk type of HPV, such as one that can lead to cervical cancer.
Treating Genital Warts
Treating genital warts can only be done by a doctor. The treatment usually includes the removal of the warts and prescription medication to apply to the warts several times a week.