Genital warts are small and large growths that are bumpy and appear on the skin of genital areas. They are sexually transmitted and are caused by human papillomaviruses (HPVs). The warts can spread from genital areas to other parts of the body and vice-versa. Some genital warts are too small to be figured out through eyes. But when these small warts combine together to form a large cluster which are skin colored or darker and sometimes look slightly raised, they resemble a cauliflower.
Symptoms of Genital Warts:
Genital warts can appear after several weeks of infection (around 6 weeks to 6 months). If you also have HPV, you may not be able to realize that you might develop genital warts even after several days. They normally develop in areas which are moist i.e., around the anus, vagina or groin and usually do not cause much pain. Moreover, many people do not develop any visible warts which might further conceal the underlying problem. The genital warts are flesh-colored bumps that are soft-to-touch and appear like the surface of a cauliflower. Sometimes people with genital warts might experience itching or pain in the area. A wart can also become inflamed, and when this happens, it may cause bleeding from the vagina, urethra or anus.
Genital Warts in Men
In men, genital warts may develop in the following areas:
- Penis, especially under the foreskin
- Urethra and around it
- Inside or around the anus
- Upper thighs
Men do not usually realize that they have a wart as it is quite difficult to spot unless they visit a doctor who diagnoses it.
Genital Warts in Women
In women, genital warts may develop in the following areas:
- Outside the vagina
- Inside the vagina
- Near the urinary opening
- Inside or around the anus
- Upper thighs
Women who regularly undergo a Pap smear test might get to know about the warts. This infection can also cause complications during pregnancy, though it is rarely passed on to the baby. Timely detection would enable to check if it is growing larger in size.
The infection often grows more quickly when a person's immune system is weakened by other diseases and conditions such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS and Hodgkin's disease. It can also develop if a person had chemotherapy in the past or if he or she is taking anti-rejection drugs after an organ transplant.
Infection can also get severe if the woman is pregnant. Due to several hormonal imbalances which cause the body’s immunity to decrease, these warts can become larger. But care has to be taken to eliminate it before or after child birth. If the HPV virus is transmitted to the baby, warts can be seen inside the baby’s throat. But this condition is very rare.
Genital warts may also develop on the mouth, lips, tongue or throat if an individual has oral sex with an HPV infected person.
Broadly speaking, following are the common signs and symptoms of genital warts:
- Small, flesh-colored lumps in the genital areas
- Mostly found in areas prone to pressure during intercourse
- Several warts combine together to form a cluster that resembles a cauliflower
- Discomfort and itching in the genital area
- Bleeding during sex
- Distorted flow of urine
- Bleeding from the anus or urethra
- Inflammation of the genital areas
- The area covered by the wart may feel more damp or wet often
- There might be vaginal discharge if the warts are located near or on vagina
- Women might face inconsistent bleeding, even between the menstrual cycle
Can HPV Display Cancerous Symptoms?
HPV does not cause cancer by itself, because it often heals on its own. So initially there might not be any recognizable cancerous symptoms. But if prolonged, HPV can alter the body in a way that can lead to cancers like penile, anal or cervical cancers. This happens when HPV infections still reside in the body.
Talking to Your Partner is Important
When you feel bumpy or grainy warts on your body or if your doctor detects it, first talk to your sexual partner. Do not hesitate to tell him or her about your problem, as it might get transmitted to their body during vaginal or anal sex. Though condoms usually help in reducing the transmission rate, it does not avoid it completely as warts might be present even around the area not covered by a condom. Also, avoid manual sex practices like fingering when you have genital warts. You can presume safe sex only once the wart has healed completely.
Also, a person might have strains of HPV which causes the warts to be dormant in the body. Hence even if you have genital warts months before you meet a new partner, it is your duty to keep your body and your partner's body free from developing warts in the future.
When to See a Doctor?
If you observe two or more of the above mentioned symptoms or suspect that you have warts from the appearance of bumps, then you should seek medical advice immediately. The warts are usually easy to treat and the doctor will prescribe antiviral creams or antiviral medicine at first if the warts are in clusters or more in number. They should go away if you have a strong immune system and usually do not have any further complications.
Even if there are no visible warts, you may have taken over the infection from your sexual partner which causes discomfort in your genital areas and distorts the flow of urine. Therefore, you might feel like having a urinary infection but it might result in a genital wart. Your healthcare provider will diagnose your condition after a physical or pelvic examination and then suggest you the right treatment.
While treatment is not required in some cases and warts disappear on their own, the condition is made severe when HPV reaches the bloodstream. When this happens, you may experience several outbreaks throughout your life which need to be managed to avoid further transmission.