Genital warts, also called venereal warts or condylomata acuminate, are small gray or skin-coloured lumps in and around the genital area. One of the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), genital warts are caused by a certain strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV). More common in women than men, it affects the moisture-laden tissues in the genital area.
Too small to be seen by the naked eye, these can be found in or near the vagina, urethra, cervix, vulva, larynx or the anus in women and near the penis, scrotum or the anus in men. A number of these warts may clump together to look like a cauliflower. It may take up to three months for the warts to develop after the infection is transmitted.
Causes of Genital Warts
The primary cause of genital warts is the HPV, which spreads through unprotected sex. Other risk factors involve:
- Oral sex
- Multiple partners
- History of child abuse
- Weak immune system
- Having sex with someone infected
- Being sexually active since a young age
- If the mother has this during childbirth
- Any other sexually transmitted disease (STD)
Complications that may Arise due to Genital Warts
HPV may cause a change in the cell structure, leading to further complications like cancer. This strain of virus is generally associated with the cancers of the cervix, vulva, anus, penis, mouth and the throat.
HPV infection during pregnancy may change hormone levels an cause the genital warts to multiply, bleed or grow. Further, a pregnant mother may pass these on to her child during childbirth. These might manifest immediately as genital warts in the mouth of the child or may make him/her more susceptible to these at a later stage.
Symptoms of Genital Warts
The primary symptoms of genital warts include
- Burning sensation
- Vaginal discharge
- Itching in genital area
- Tenderness in groin area
- Bleeding while having sex
- Discomfort in groin area
Even when the warts are not visible to the naked eye, such symptoms may be indicative of their presence.
Genital warts can be treated with the application of a topical cream, which can be applied directly to the affected area. Once diagnosed, a doctor may choose to use any of the following treatment modalities, depending on the location, number and appearance of the warts.
- Topical medicines: In this method, a medicated liquid or cream is dabbed directly on the wart, either by a clinician or by the affected individual. This treatment may take several weeks.
- Electrocautery: In this method, a local anesthesia is administered before an electric current is used to destroy the wart.
- Cryotherapy: In this method, the warts are frozen using liquid nitrogen, causing a blister to form around the wart. As the scab falls of and the skin heals, new skin appears. Several sessions may be required in this method.
- Laser therapy: A beam of laser is used to destroy and cut off the wart from the skin.
- Surgery: In this method too, local anesthesia is administered before the warts are surgically removed.
Prevention of Genital Warts
Though a vaccination is available to protect oneself from the HPV, it should be administered before the individual contracts the virus. If it is administered later, then the vaccine may prove to be ineffective.
Other precautions include not having unprotected sex, avoiding multiple partners, informing others if you are infected and quitting smoking.
As genital warts can lead to further complications, it is advisable that the affected person, especially women, go for regular screenings and pap tests.