Genital Warts – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Genital warts can be an embarrassing and uncomfortable condition to have. For this reason, if you have genital warts, it is important for you to know the causes and symptoms as well as the treatments that are available to you.

Causes of Genital Warts

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus, commonly referred to as HPV. There are many types of HPV. At last estimate, there were over 100 different types, but less than half of these carry the ability to cause genital warts or other infections of the genital area.

Specifically, there are two types of HPV that are the most likely to cause genital warts. These are called HPV-6 and HPV-11. The good news is that if you have genital warts caused by one of these two types of HPV, they are both considered to be low risk as far as their ability to cause cancer.

On the other hand, certain types of HPV, such as HPV-16, HPV-18, HPV-31, and HPV-45, are considered to give a high risk of cervical cancer to the carrier. Cervical cancer is considered to be caused by HPV in all cases.

In the case of genital warts caused by HPV, the virus is able to penetrate the body through tiny abrasions or holes in the skin during sexual activity. Cells that have been infected with HPV have a period of latency in which the HPV causes no symptoms. This period of latency can last for several months to several years.

Furthermore, a sexual partner who has no symptoms of HPV may still have them and can still infect another partner during this latency period. It is estimated that 2 out of 3 people who have sex with a partner who has genital warts will likely develop genital warts themselves within 2 to 3 months. People who have a history of other STDs are at higher risk of infection of HPV and genital warts, due to their lifestyle being a risk factor.

Women who use birth control pills as their only means of contraception are at a higher risk of contracting genital warts, due to the lack of barrier protection during sex. Barrier protection, such as condoms, is considered to be a good preventive measure against genital warts and HPV.

Genital Warts Symptoms

The symptoms of genital warts include unsightly, often uncomfortable warts in the genital area. The warts are generally painless but can be irritating due to itching, size, or their location.

In addition, genital warts can affect both men and women. Genital warts can itch and discharge fluid, and if they are present near the opening to the urethra, bleeding can occur, but this is rare.

Genital warts can vary in size from less than 1 millimeter to several centimeters if multiple warts are close in proximity to each other or joined together. Furthermore, the warts can appear in more than one area of the genitals.

In a man, genital warts can occur on the penis, urethra, rectal area, and scrotum. And the warts will most likely appear as soft masses that are raised. The surface can be rough or smooth. In some cases, the warts can appear pearl-like or with a rough, dark surface.

In women, the warts are similar in appearance but will more often occur near the moist areas of the genitals, such as the vaginal opening and the labia minora.


If you believe you have genital warts, it is important that you get examined by your doctor. Once a diagnosis is made, usually through a biopsy, magnification, or pap smear, then treatment can be considered. Note that genital warts can sometimes disappear on their own in a few months, but this occurs in about 10% to 20% of cases.

While there is no cure for genital warts and no way to eradicate HPV, there are treatments which may be effective against the genital warts in many cases.

Cryotherapy is a treatment for genital warts, which involves the freezing of the warts using liquid nitrogen. This treatment is considered to be quite effective and has little risk of side effects.

Laser treatments are also available for warts that are more extensive or for recurring cases. Laser treatment destroys the warts physically and directly. However, this treatment can be quite expensive. And it is important to note that laser treatment also involves a period of healing and that it carries a risk of scarring and infection.

Another treatment option is called electrodesiccation. In this treatment, an electrical current is used to physically destroy the warts, and it is done under local anesthetic.

As with other sexually transmitted diseases, the best way to treat the problem is to not get infected in the first place. Try to practice safe sex, and use condoms and other barrier protections for all sexual activity.

Also, it is important that you know your partner’s sexual history. Lastly, practice monogamy whenever possible. By simply taking extra precautions such as those mentioned above, you can avoid getting genital warts.

Featured Image credit: Wikimedia

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