Genital warts - Overview
Condylomata acuminata; Penile warts; Human papilloma virus (HPV); Venereal warts; Condyloma; HPV DNA test; Sexually transmitted disease (STD)
Definition of Genital warts:
Genital warts are soft, wart-like growths on the skin and mucus membranes of the genitals in men and women. Genital warts are a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Causes, incidence, and risk factors:
The virus that causes genital warts is called human papilloma virus (HPV). More than 70 different types of HPV exist.
- Several types of HPV cause genital warts, which may be found on the penis, vulva, urethra, vagina, cervix, larynx, and around and in the anus.
- Other types of HPV cause common or flat warts on other parts of the skin, such as the hands. However, warts on the hands or other parts of the body do not cause genital warts.
HPV infection around the genitals is common, although most people have no symptoms. Even if you do NOT have symptoms, however, you must be treated to prevent complications and spreading the condition to others.
In women, HPV can invade the walls of the vagina and cervix. These warts are flat and not easy to see without special procedures.
Certain types of HPV can lead to precancerous changes in the cervix, cervical cancer, or anal cancer. These are called high-risk types of HPV.
The following are important facts about how HPV and genital warts can be spread:
- HPV infection is passed from one person to another through sexual contact involving the skin of the anus, mouth, or vagina, or the mucus membrane. It is possible for genital warts and HPV to spread, even when no warts can be seen.
- You may not see warts for at least 6 weeks to 6 months after becoming infected with HPV. It may also take longer, even years, so when you first notice genital warts, it does not mean that you or your partner has had sexual contact with someone outside of your relationship.
- Not everyone who has been exposed to the HPV virus and genital warts wil develop them.
The following factors put you at higher risk for getting genital warts, having them spread more quickly, having them return, or having other complications of HPV:
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Not knowing whether someone you had sex with had STIs
- Becoming sexually active at an early age
- Using tobacco and alcohol
- Having stress and other viral infections (such as herpes) at the same time
- Being pregnant
- Having an immune system that does not work well, such as during cancer treatment or AIDS
If a child has genital warts, you should suspect sexual abuse as a possible cause.
- Reviewed last on: 12/22/2010
- Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
Diaz ML. Human papilloma virus: prevention and treatment.Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2008;35(2):199-217.
Mayrand MH, Duarte-Franco E, Rodrigues I, Walter SD, Hanley J, Ferenczy A, et al. Human papillomavirus DNA versus Papanicolaou screening tests for cervical cancer. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:1579-1588.
Kahn JA. HPV vaccination for the prevention of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. N Engl J Med. 2009;361:271-278.
HPV and Men - CDC Fact Sheet. April 3, 2008. Accessed December 20, 2009.
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