Knowing the Signs of Genital Warts

Condylomata acuminata is a medical condition caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV. It is sexually transmitted and occurs in 50% of sexually active adults across the US. It is more popularly known as genital warts or venereal warts.

1. What is HPV?

HPV is a serious infection. There over a hundred known strains of HPV, some are low-risk that can cause warts, others are high-risk and are known to cause the dreaded cervical cancer as well as anal and other genital cancers.

HPV is transmitted through contact with the skin or mucosal membrane of an infected person during sexual activity. A latency stage may occur for months or even years from onset of the infection in which no symptom is evident.

2. Symptoms

Genital warts are lumps that vary in appearance. Most warts are flesh or gray in color, often round, sometimes cauliflower in shape, and may be varied in size. Sometimes the bumps are hardly noticeable as they can grow smaller than the tip of a ballpoint pen.

In women, the growths may appear on the vulva, in the walls of vagina or inside the cervix. In men, they commonly occur on the tip and sometimes the shaft of the penis, or on the scrotum. The growth can likewise occur inside and on the periphery of the anus, in the area of the groin, and the inner thighs in both men and women. Rarely, the warts can grow in the mouth or inside the throat as caused by oral sex with a carrier of the disease.

The warts may cause itching and irritation in the areas where they occur. They may likewise cause bleeding during sexual intercourse. Warts may weaken the walls of the vagina and compromise its stretchability which is crucial to childbirth.

In exceptional cases, an infected mother may transmit the virus to her child during natural vaginal birth. In such cases, the infected child may develop growth in the airway, a condition called respiratory papillomatosis. This is a dangerous situation that may call for a surgical incision to remove the airway blockage.

3. Common Misdiagnosis

It is important to know the signs of genital warts as there are a few diseases with similar symptoms that are commonly mistaken for venereal warts. There are somewhat similar lesions called hirsuties papillaris genitalis in men and vestibular papillae of the vulva in women that are actually benign though abnormal skin conditions.

Another common skin condition called Fordyce spots can be observed on the penis or vulva and may likewise be mistaken for warts. Likewise, there is a viral infection known as molluscum contagiosum that is sexually transmitted in adults and shows similar pearly lesions in the genital area. This disease, on the other hand, is less harmful than venereal warts.

4. Treatment

Genital warts can occasionally cause irritation, itching and bleeding, but more importantly, they are seen as consistent source of embarrassment so many people opt to have them removed. There are prescription topical medications such as Imiquimod, Podophyllin and 5-fluorouracil that can remove the lesions.

There are also doctor-performed procedures such as cauterization, cryosurgery, surgical incision and laser removal. Taking out genital warts, however, does not guarantee elimination of the viral infection. Thus, the warts may clear altogether after treatment or recur or even worsen over time.

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