What Causes Genital Warts And What Are they?

Genital warts can be one of the more embarrassing and awkward topics to discuss not just with your partner but with your family and most of all your doctor. A specific virus, the Human Papillomavirus or HPV, causes genital warts. These warts impact both men and women, but women are more susceptible than men. Genital warts are treatable with standard antibiotics, however, these warts can reoccur if the underlying infection is not treated as well. So what exactly are Genital Warts?


Genital warts are soft growths that appear on the genitals. These skin growths can be painful, swollen and red in color. These warts and lesions can present significant health risks for women as these warts caused by the HPV virus have been proven to demonstrate the presence of cervical cancer cells. Human Papillomavirus is the most prevalent of the sexually transmitted infections that can cause genital warts. This means that men and women who are sexually active with more than one partner are susceptible to higher degrees of risk and complications when it comes to HPV and genital warts. According to the latest data from the National Institutes of Health, there are approximately 360,000 new cases of genital warts each year. Education, protection and prevention are the three biggest weapons doctors and individuals can use against genital warts caused by HPV.


Genital warts, as explained previously, are spread through various forms of sexual activity.  The incubation period is roughly seventeen days, therefore most infected individuals will not begin showing the first signs of infection until upwards of two weeks after exposure. As a result, the infected individual may inadvertently infect several other individuals, who will then go on and infect several more and the circle keeps expanding and expanding.  This is why testing and knowledge about your own personal sexual health is paramount in avoiding contracting genital warts.


Genital warts are not always visible to the naked eye, they can grow and populate an area of the genitals that renders observation nearly impossible. Furthermore, they may blend in with the color of the skin-making it increasingly difficult to spot these warts. Genital warts might be smooth and flat or elevated and bumpy with ridges dispersed throughout. Most often an individual does not have just one wart, the majority of cases indicate an individual has more than one wart when there is an infection caused by HPV present.


So where are the most common location for genital warts to appear? The answer is different for everyone but in general for men the most common area for genital warts to be present include the penis, scrotum, groin, thighs and inside or around the anus. For women, most genital warts can be observed inside or around the outside of the vagina; inside or around the exterior of the anus or on the cervix-which as was stated earlier, can increase the likelihood of cervical cancer. Genital warts do not only have to appear in or around the genitals of an individual. Genital warts can appear on the tongue, lips, mouth or throat of an infected individual. Many people ascribe the faulty belief that if they cannot see the warts, then they must obviously not have any. This perception is skewed because symptoms exist even in the absence of any visual proof of these warts. The most commonly associated symptoms with genital warts include vaginal discharge, itching, bleeding and a consistent and dull burning sensation throughout the genital area.


As this article stated at the outset, the HPV virus causes genital warts. According to the CDC and NIH data, there are over seventy individual strains of the virus that can cause genital warts. What makes HPV dangerous for individuals are that HPV does cause warts but those warts can lead to greater health complications later in life. The HPV virus is highly communicable through simple skin-to-skin contact. Therefore, genital warts are among the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection among younger adults who still consider themselves to be virgins. HPV can be transmitted through a variety of non-sexual activities, such as dry humping (or outer-course).  Contrary to public opinion, a wart on someone’s hand cannot be transferred to their genitals and vice versa.


Like most sexually transmitted diseases and infections, there are several key risk factors that can increase the likelihood of an individual contracting genital warts. There are a myriad of these factors, however the main ones include anyone under the age of thirty given this demographics heightened state of participation in sexual activity outside of a committed relationship; smokers are more susceptible to genital warts given the fact that smoking compromises the immune system; if the individual already has a compromised immune system this can make HPV an opportunistic infection; if their mother had HPV during child birth.


HPV and genital warts also signal higher risks and long term consequences for women. Women who have been diagnosed with genital warts have a higher than average probability of being diagnosed with cervical cancer. Furthermore, HPV and genital warts can foster a condition where a condition known as dysplasia occurs in women. Dysplasia is a condition where precancerous changes occur in the cells of the cervix, causing pain and rendering it difficult for women to have children.


So how will a doctor diagnose and treat genital warts? This question is answered differently for men and women. In men, the doctor simply examines the genitals and/or anal region of the patient to discover the presence of warts. For women, conversely, genital warts may be internal; therefore a doctor may require a pelvic exam to rule out the presence of any genital warts inside the vagina. A doctor may also carry out a pap smear, which involves taking a swab of cervical cells to determine if unusual cell growth is occurring. Once the doctor has diagnosed the patient with genital warts, the issue of treatment becomes readily apparent.


Most cases of genital warts are treated, successfully, with a normal course of antibiotics-penicillin being the most commonly prescribed antibiotic. The combination of early detection, testing, treatment and education are all critical elements to understanding, limiting and reducing the incidence and prevalence rates of genital warts.

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