Menstuff® has compiled the following information on genital
Questions & Answers
What are the symptoms of genital warts?
Only certain types of HPV cause genital warts. Other types of HPV,
not related to genital warts, can cause abnormal cell changes on the
genital skin, usually on a female's cervix.
What do warts look like?
Genital warts appear as growths or bumps. Warts may be raised or
flat, single or multiple, small or large. They tend to be
flesh-colored or whitish in appearance. Warts usually do not cause
itching, burning, or pain.
Where can they appear?
Vulva (entire outer female genital area)
In or around the vagina
In or around the anus
In or around the anus
Groin (where the genital area meets the inner thigh)
Groin (where the genital area meets the inner thigh)
Cervix (less common than external warts)
How often can episodes occur?
- Some people only have one episode, while others have
- When warts are present, the virus is considered active
- When warts are gone, the virus is latent (sleeping) in the
skin cells - it may or may not be contagious at this time
- Genital warts may or may not return after the first
- A healthy immune system is usually able to clear the virus, or
suppress it, over time.
- Warts may appear within several weeks after sex with someone
who has the wart-types of HPV, or it may take several months or
years to appear. Or, warts may never appear. This makes it hard to
know exactly when or from whom someone got the virus.
How are they transmitted?
- Any person who is sexually active can get genital warts.
- The types of HPV that cause genital warts are usually spread
by direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or possibly
oral sex with someone who has this infection.
- Very little is known about passing subclinical HPV to sex
partners. HPV may be more likely transmitted when warts are
present, but the virus can be transmitted even when ther are no
- The types of HPV that cause genital warts are usually
different from those causing warts on other body parts, such as
the hands. People do not get genital warts by touching warts on
their hands or feet.
- Warts on other parts of the body, such as the hands, are
caused by different types of HPV.
- Warts are not commonly found in the mouth, so some experts
believe that transmission through oral sex is not as likely as
with genital-to-genital or genital-to-anal contact.
Sometimes, warts can be very hard to see. Also, it can be hard to
tell the difference between a wart and normal bumps on the genital
area. If someone thinks he or she has warts or have been exposed to
HPV, they should go to a doctor or clinic. A doctor or nurse will
check more closely and may use a magnifying lens to find smaller
A biopsy is not necessary for diagnosing genital warts. This is
only done if the bump is unusual looking or discolored.
To look for warts or other abnormal tissue, doctors or nurses may
put acetic acid (vinegar) on the genitals. This causes warts to turn
white and makes them easier to see, especially if they are viewed
through a magnifying lens such as a colposcope. However, the vinegar
can sometimes cause other normal bumps to be highlighted, so this
method of diagnosis can be misleading.
There are no blood tests clinically available to diagnose a person
- While there is no medical cure for HPV, there are several
treatment options available for genital warts.
- The goal of any treatment should be to remove visible genital
warts to get rid of annoying symptoms. No one treatment is best
for all cases.
- Treating the warts may possibly help reduce the risk of
transmission to a partner who may have never been exposed to the
wart-types of HPV.
- When choosing what treatment to use, the health care provider
will consider the size, location and number of warts, changes in
the warts, patient preference, cost of treatment, convenience,
adverse effects, and their own experience with the
- Some treatments are done in a clinic or doctor's office;
others are prescription creams that can be used at home for many
Treatments done in the doctor's office include:
- Cryotherapy (freezing off the wart with liquid nitrogen). This
can be relatively inexpensive, but must be done by a trained
doctor or nurse.
- Podophyllin (a chemical compound that must be applied by a
doctor or nurse). This is an older treatment and is not as widely
- TCA (trichloracetic acid) is another chemical applied to the
surface of the wart by a doctor or a nurse.
- Cutting off warts. This has the advantage of getting rid of
warts in a single office visit
- Electrocautery (burning off warts with an electrical
- Laser therapy (using an intense light to destroy warts).This
is used for larger or extensive warts, especially those that have
not responded well to other treatments. Laser can also cost a lot
of money. Most doctors do not have lasers in their office and the
doctor must be well-trained with this method.
- Interferon (a substance injected in to the wart). This is
rarely used anymore due to extensive side effects and high cost.
Less expensive therapies work just as well with fewer side
At-home prescription creams (these are only available by a
prescription from a doctor):
- Podofilox cream or gel (Condylox®). This is a self-applied
treatment for external genital warts. It may be less expensive
than treatment done in a health care provider's ofice, is easy to
use and is safe, but it must be used for about 4 weeks..
- Imiquimod cream (Aldara®). This is also a self-applied
treatment for external genital warts. It is safe, effective and
easy to use. This cream is different than other commonly-used
treatments, which work by destroying the wart tissue. Aldara
actually boosts the immune system to fight HPV.
IMPORTANT: Over-the-counter wart treatments should not be used
in the genital area.
Reduce your risk
Any person who is sexually active can come across this common
virus. Ways to reduce the risk are:
- Not having sex with anyone.
- Having sex only with one partner who has sex only with you.
People who have many sex partners are at higher risk of getting
- If someone has visible symptoms of genital warts, he or she
should not have sexual activity until the warts are removed. This
may help to lower the risk of giving the virus.
- Condoms (rubbers), used the right way from start to finish
each time of having sex may help provide protection - but only for
the skin that is covered by the condom. Condoms do not cover all
genital skin, so they don't protect 100%.
- Spermicidal foams, creams, jellies (and condoms coated with
spermicide) are not proven to be effective in preventing HPV and
may cause microscopic abrasions that make it easier to contract
STDs. Spermicides are not recommended for routine use.
- When someone has HPV, they are not likely to be reinfected if
exposed again to the same type. This is probably due to the immune
system's response to the virus. However, it is possible to be
infected with a different type of HPV from a new partner.
- It is important for partners to understand the "entire
picture" about HPV so that both people can make informed decisions
based on facts, not fear or misconceptions.
What about pregnancy and genital warts?
- Most pregnant women who have had genital warts previously but
no longer do would be unlikely to have any complications or
problems during pregnancy or birth.
- Most children are born healthy to women with a history of
- Because of hormone changes in the body during pregnancy, warts
can grow in size and number, bleed, or, in extremely rare cases,
make delivery harder.
- Very rarely, babies exposed to the wart-types of HPV during
birth may develop growths in the throat.
- This so seldom happens, however, that women with genital warts
do not typically need to have a cesarean-section delivery unless
warts are blocking the birth canal. It is important that a
pregnant woman notify her doctor or clinic if she or her
partner(s) has had genital warts. This way they can determine if
they need to treat the warts, or not, during the pregnancy.
Steering Clear of Genital Warts
Genital warts it's not the prettiest topic of conversation,
but it's definitely something that needs to be discussed. Why?
Because the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which causes genital warts,
is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S.
yet almost three quarters of us have never heard of it!
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