What are genital warts?
Genital warts are small growths or lumps that appear on the skin of the genitals or around the anus. They are caused by the human papillomavirus, which is transmitted through sexual contact with an infected partner. Genital warts can affect both men and women, in 2016 they accounted for 15.7% of all sexually transmitted infection diagnoses in the UK. It is possible to be infected with HPV and never develop any symptoms. When genital warts do occur, they are usually painless, although they may occasionally itch or bleed. Left untreated, genital warts may disappear naturally and the human body usually overcomes the HPV virus within two years. However, genital warts may reoccur at any time if the virus is active in your body. Most patients find genital warts ugly and distressing and are keen to treat them as soon as possible.
Treatments for genital warts include cutting them off under local anaesthetic, freezing them with liquid nitrogen, electrocauterisation, and laser ablation. These treatments can be painful and may result in scarring. It is also possible to treat genital warts with creams, gels, and solutions that are applied directly to the warts. These include Warticon and Condyline.
What are the causes of genital warts?
Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus is transmitted through sexual contact with an infected partner. Even if you cannot see any warts on your partner’s body, he or she may unknowingly have the HPV virus and can be contagious. It is possible for the virus to remain latent in the human body and not cause any symptoms. It is also possible to remain infectious after any warts have cleared up. Any sexual activity where the skin of your genital or anal areas, or your mouth, directly contacts the infected skin of a partner can result in genital warts. Using a condom may reduce the risk of infection but does not eliminate it completely. The HPV virus can infect sexually active people of all age groups and genders and is very common in the UK and around the world. According to the British Medical Journal 3.8% of sexually experienced men and 4.6% of sexually experienced women reported having had a diagnosis of genital warts.
Symptoms of genital warts
Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is possible to be infected with the virus and not develop any genital warts. If you do suffer from genital warts, the visible symptoms will be a number of growths or lumps on the infected areas (typically the penis and testicles in men, the vagina and labia in women, and sometimes the anal area in both sexes). These growths are usually painless but may occasionally itch or bleed. Although genital warts usually grow outside your body on the skin, they can also appear inside your body in the urethra or anus. If you find that your flow of urine always leaves the body at a strange angle, or you have itching or bleeding from your anus or urethra, it could be a sign of genital warts.
If a sexual partner develops genital warts, you might also be infected, even if you have no visible symptoms.
Genital warts are ugly and can be alarming, especially if you have no previous knowledge of the condition. Many patients experience deep anxiety, embarrassment, and shame. They may worry about being unable to have sex and can feel uncomfortable about seeking treatment, particularly if they have heard rumours about painful treatments that can leave scarring on their genitals. DoktorABCs online GPs are trained to deal sensitively with patients who need treatment for genital warts and you should not feel embarrassed about approaching them.
Diagnosis of genital warts
Genital warts can usually be diagnosed by a quick visual examination. The warts are highly distinctive and are not easily confused with other medical conditions. Genital warts are common in the UK and doctors are accustomed to diagnosing and treating them.
Treatments for genital warts
There are several possible treatments for genital warts, there are divided into ablative treatments (cutting the warts away or otherwise destroying them) and topical treatments (gels and creams).
- Surgical removal under local anaesthetic. This usually involves simply cutting the warts off with surgical scissors.
- Liquid nitrogen cryosurgery is a process that involves freezing individual warts with liquid nitrogen. It is usually performed by a GP and is a quick and painless procedure that doesn’t leave scars.
- Electrocauterization is an older procedure that is also effective.
- Laser ablation is not commonly used due to its high cost.
- In serious cases, genital warts may be surgically removed under general anaesthetic. This is a rare procedure.
- Imiquimod is a topical immune response cream, applied to the affected area.
- Sinecatechins is an ointment of catechins extracted from green tea and other components.
- Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) may be applied, but is not recommended for use in the vagina, cervix, or urinary meatus.
- Podophyllotoxin (also called podofilox) based gels and creams like Warticon Cream and Condyline are available at DoktorABC. You can apply the medications directly to your warts in a series of treatment cycles.
Prevention of genital warts
The only absolute way to prevent genital warts is not to have sex. If you are sexually active, you can reduce the chances of catching genital warts by following the precautions below:
- Have a monogamous relationship with a trusted partner.
- Get an HPV vaccination (if your doctor recommends it).
- Do not have sex with multiple partners, especially strangers.
- Always use a condom.