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Genital Warts

Disclaimer: Not medical or professional advice. Always seek the advice of your physician.

Genital warts are benign tumors caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). There are many types of HPV, but only 2 strains lead to the development of genital warts.

HPV infection is usually passed through unprotected sexual contact. Moreover, it can be transmitted during any type of sexual activity (vaginal, oral, anal, same-sex sexual contact), not just intercourse.
Condylomas most commonly appear in the genital area and perineum. These growths are precipitated by increased moisture and friction.

Genital warts can also affect the area around and inside the anus.

Symptoms of Genital Warts

  • Small, flesh-colored, or gray swellings in the genital area.
  • A cluster of multiple warts that grow close together.
  • Itching or discomfort in the genital area.
  • Bleeding during sexual intercourse.
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
  • When condylomas appear inside the anus, they can be injured during a bowel movement and start bleeding or release ichor.

Genital warts tend to be small and flat and may not be easily noticed. But sometimes, they grow and form large clusters of warts.

See your doctor right away if your partner develops bumps or warts in the genital area.

Genital warts often present as a single asymptomatic growth. Once infected with HPV, the virus typically requires an incubation period ranging from a few weeks to a few years. Activation of the virus occurs when the body is exposed to various adverse factors that compromise the immune system.

Risk Factors for HPV 

  • Having unprotected sex with multiple partners.
  • The presence of other sexually transmitted infections (herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea).
  • Having sex with a partner whose sexual history you don't know.
  • Starting sexual activity at a young age.
  • Having chronic conditions that weaken immune systems.

Types of Genital Warts

  • Dome-shaped warts. Such formations pose the greatest threat and usually appear in the genital area. They present as flesh-colored or pale pink papules in the shape of a nipple. Over time, genital condylomas can undergo malignant transformation.
  • Flat warts. This type is benign and relatively safe. Such warts do not cause cancer. However, they are contagious and can be passed from person to person through skin-to-skin contact. Flat warts are usually small (up to 5 mm), round in shape and can be found on the face, lower legs, and hands.
  • Bowenoid papulosis. These lesions can be observed in the genital and perianal areas. They appear as papules or plaques, slightly elevated above the skin and mucous membranes, of a dense texture, and yellow or pink in color.  

Prevention of Genital Warts

  • Barrier contraception methods like condoms reduce the risk of infection but do not provide complete protection.
  • Abstinence from any sexual activity with a partner who has not been tested for HPV. Given the high degree of infectiousness, the condition can be quickly acquired following first sexual intercourse.
  • Regular check-ups and HPV vaccination can help reduce the risk of getting genital warts or cancer caused by infection with human papillomavirus.

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Education
Emory University Doctor of Medicine Morehouse School of Medicine Atlanta, GA
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Atlanta, GA
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Dr. Tim Nguyen