Genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Although genital warts often go away on their own, many people seek treatment to remove the warts. Fortunately, there are several effective and safe treatment options available.
Understanding Genital Warts
What are genital warts?
Genital warts are soft, skin-colored growths that appear on the genital area. They are caused by certain strains of HPV, such as HPV-6 and HPV-11. HPV is transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person. Genital warts can develop weeks, months, or even years after exposure to HPV.
Causes and risk factors
HPV infection is the cause of genital warts. Risk factors include:
- Having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Having a weakened immune system
- Damage to genital skin
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of genital warts include:
- Small, flesh-colored or gray bumps in the genital area
- Itching, burning, or tenderness
- Bleeding during intercourse
- Vaginal discharge or bleeding between periods
Multiple warts may cluster together to form larger growths. They can appear on the penis, vagina, cervix, vulva, groin, thighs, or anus. Genital wart treatment options include topical creams, surgical removal, freezing, or laser therapy.
Treatment Options for Genital Warts
There are several effective medical and surgical treatments for removing genital warts.
Topical medications that can be applied directly to visible genital warts include:
This comes in cream form and stimulates the immune system to fight the virus. It is applied a few times per week for up to 16 weeks.
This is a chemical that destroys wart tissue and is washed off a few hours after application. It must be applied by a doctor weekly for up to 6 weeks.
These come in an ointment containing antioxidants that boost the immune system. It is applied 3 times per day for up to 16 weeks.
Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) chemically cauterizes the wart tissue and is applied weekly by a doctor.
Interferon is an immune-boosting injection given 3 times a week for 3-6 months to treat widespread warts.
Procedures that destroy genital warts include:
Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and destroy wart tissue. It can cause blistering and scarring.
A focused laser beam is used to vaporize wart tissue. This requires localized or general anesthesia.
Warts can be cut off by electrocautery, tangential scissor excision, or curettage. This is done under local anesthesia.
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Tips for Managing Genital Warts
In addition to medical treatment, you can manage genital warts with these tips:
See your doctor
See a doctor as soon as possible if you notice any genital growth. Early diagnosis and treatment lead to better outcomes.
Practice safe sex
Use condoms during sex to reduce transmitting HPV to partners. Avoid skin-to-skin genital contact if you or your partner have visible warts.
Boost your immune system
Eat a balanced, nutritious diet and exercise regularly. Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake. A stronger immune system can help clear HPV.
Smoking weakens the immune system. Quitting improves the body’s ability to fight HPV and genital warts.
Prevention of Genital Warts
You can take steps to avoid developing genital warts:
Getting vaccinated against HPV helps prevent infection from wart-causing strains. It’s recommended for preteens and people under 26.
Using condoms during sexual activity lowers the risk of getting infected with HPV. However, HPV can still be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact.
Limit sexual partners
Having fewer sexual partners reduces exposure to HPV and genital warts. But even one partner can transmit the virus.
Outlook for Genital Warts
With proper treatment, most cases of genital warts can be removed successfully. However, the virus may remain dormant and warts can recur. Regular follow-up with a doctor is recommended after treatment. Even after warts are gone, HPV can still be transmitted to partners.
Genital warts can cause anxiety and affect sexual intimacy. However, there are many treatment options available. Seeking medical care and following your doctor’s advice can help manage genital warts.
Genital warts are a prevalent sexually transmitted infection, but they can be treated safely and effectively. Various medications, procedures, and lifestyle measures can help remove warts and stop recurrence. Preventing HPV infection through vaccination, condoms, and limiting sexual partners also helps reduce risk. With proper treatment and follow-up, most people can eliminate warts and go on to resume normal sexual activity.
Are genital warts dangerous?
Genital warts themselves are not dangerous and do not turn cancerous. However, some oncogenic strains of HPV can cause cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.
How do you know if you have genital warts?
Genital warts appear as soft, skin-colored, cauliflower-like bumps or groups of bumps in the genital area. They may itch, burn, or cause pain. A doctor can examine any suspicious growth and test for HPV infection.
Can genital warts go away without treatment?
Some genital warts may go away on their own, but many persist or keep coming back. Treatment helps destroy stubborn warts and lower transmission risk.
What if genital warts come back after treatment?
Recurrence of genital warts after treatment is common. Further treatments can remove new warts. Doctors may suggest periodic follow-up exams to monitor and retreat if necessary.
How do you prevent getting genital warts?
Getting vaccinated, using condoms, limiting partners, and avoiding sexual contact with visible warts can help prevent contracting HPV that causes genital warts. But HPV is common and there are no guarantees against infection.