What are genital warts?

Genital warts are flesh-colored or grayish bumps caused by the human papilloma virus, or HPV, that occur in the genital area. They can be big or small, flat or raised, and solitary or clustered. In men, they can be found on the scrotum or penis; in women, they can appear on the cervix, in the vagina, or on the vulva. They can also occur near or inside the anus and urethra.

Genital warts can appear weeks to months after an infection, or may not appear despite an infection with the human papilloma virus. They can also be spread by a partner who has no symptoms. Furthermore, more than 100 types of human papilloma virus exist, including many types that do not infect the genital area or produce warts. Genital human papilloma virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection, affecting at least 50% of all sexually active adults in their lifetimes (Source: CDC).

Although some human papilloma virus types increase the risk of developing cervical, penile or anal cancer, the types that cause genital warts do not increase that risk. Left untreated, genital warts may go away with time, remain unchanged, or increase in number. Although the viral infection cannot be cured, genital warts can be treated with topical medications or with such procedures as cryotherapy (freezing), electrocautery, laser therapy, or surgery. After treatment, genital warts may recur or may never return.

The human papilloma virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact, so direct contact with visible genital warts should be avoided. Since you cannot always tell who is infected with the human papilloma virus, the best way to avoid genital warts is abstinence from sexual relations. The risk of infection is increased with multiple sexual partners and with sexual activity at an early age. A vaccine that protects against most of the human papilloma virus types that cause genital warts or cervical cancer is available.

Whether to accept treatment for genital warts is a personal choice; however, some complications of genital warts may require treatment. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if the genital warts block the urethra and you are unable to urinate, if they block the anus and you are unable to have a bowel movement, or if you develop bleeding during pregnancy.

Seek prompt medical care if you have bleeding that you cannot control.


What are the symptoms of genital warts?

Genital warts can involve the anus, cervix, penis, scrotum, urethra, vagina or vulva. They can occasionally be found in the groin or on the thigh. Sometimes they cannot be seen without magnification. Sometimes they form large clusters. They may be flat or raised and cauliflower-like.

Common symptoms of genital warts

Common symptoms of genital warts include:

... Read more about genital wartssymptoms


What causes genital warts?

Genital warts are a type of sexually transmitted infection caused by certain types of human papilloma virus. While genital warts are spread by direct contact, they do not have to be visible to be contagious and may not develop until weeks or months after the infection occurs.

What are the risk factors for genital warts?

A number of factors increase the risk of developin... Read more about genital wartscauses


How are genital warts treated?

Genital warts do not always require treatment. For many people, the decision of whether to get treated is a personal choice.

Common treatments for genital warts

Treatment of genital warts is aimed at removal or destruction of the warts, relieving symptoms, and preventing or reducing disfigurement or other complications. The type of treatment is typically based on patien... Read more about genital wartstreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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