Genital warts are treatable, but not curable even if caught early. Barring rare cases they are not dangerous and won’t kill you. At present there is no cure for the virus that causes genital warts and therefore they cannot be completely cured. However symptoms are not permanent and can be treated as and when they show up.
There are effective treatments available which get rid of genital wart outbreaks. In some cases genital warts may come back or recur with in a period of three to six months after the successful treatment of the symptoms. In such cases treatment might be applied again.
What are Genital Warts?
Genital warts, which are often called as condyloma acuminata or venereal warts, is a type of sexually transmitted diseases. The warts on the genital area are caused mainly by two types of human papilloma virus (HPV) – 6 or 11, according to the Centers for Disease Control. These warts are generally asymptomatic in nature. However, a person affected by it may complaint of tender growth on the skin and mucus membranes of the genitals or sudden change in skin colour near genitals.
Genital warts commonly appear on the genital area, for example, a woman may complain of warts near vagina or inside vagina, while a man may complain of development of warts on the skin surrounding their anus. In some rare cases, the warts may also appear on lips, mouth, tongue and throat of a person because of unprotected oral intercourse with an infected person.
Genital warts are self-treatable meaning that if left untreated, our immune system can make them go away on their own. However, over grown or out grown warts may require proper medical treatment. They are not really painful; however, over grown warts may penetrate into the blood stream causing serious discomfort to the infected person.
What Causes Genital Warts?
Genital warts are caused by several factors with unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person being a prime cause of its occurrence. The development of warts near genitals has also been indirectly linked to the usage of birth control pills as a result of increased sexual intercourse in the absence of protection such as a condom. Multiple sex partners and sex at an early age have also been associated with genital warts. Following are some potential causes of genital warts:
- Unprotected sex: Genital wart is a sexually transmittable disease. Unprotected intercourse whether oral, vaginal or anal multiplies the chances of a person developing the disease.
- Unhealthy lifestyle such as binge drinking and smoking can contribute to the development of warts as these activities lower the immunity of a person. A body with a compromised immune system has high risk of developing genital warts.
- A viral infection such as herpes may also cause development of warts following an unsafe intercourse.
- Pregnant ladies have also been found to have increased risk of developing genital warts.
What are the Symptoms?
In some cases, the warts are small and are not detectable by naked eyes. Warts can be present on your groin, vulva, cervix, penis, scrotum, buttocks, inside or around anus, or urethra. Following are some symptoms that may help in diagnosing genital warts:
- Small, flesh-coloured or gray swellings around genital area
- Cluster of warts that feel like the top of a cauliflower
- Itchiness or discomfort near the genital area
- Bleeding during or post intercourse
- Increased wetness in the genital area affected with warts
- Increased vaginal discharge
How Diagnosis is Done?
To get the genital warts treated it is vital to get it diagnosed on the first place. Genital warts can be diagnosed either by physical examination or by pelvic examination; the latter is only for woman. Medical practitioners use a medical diagnostic procedure, dubbed colposcopy, to spot warts that are invisible to the naked eyes.
Pap smear is yet another test that can be carried out to spot genital warts in women. Patients showing abnormal pap smear may be required to undertake an HPV DNA test to gauge if the patient has a high-risk type of HPV, which is said to be potent to cause cancer of cervix .
What are the Treatment Options Available?
Although a number of medications are available in the market, genital warts cannot be treated by using over the counter medicines. They can last a lifetime but often the immune system itself makes the genital warts go away on their own, at times, you may need to seek professional help. Following the proper examination of the genital warts, a medical practitioner may prescribe one of the following treatments depending on the gravity of the warts.
- A skin treatment: This type of treatment is usually carried out at the clinic only.
- Ointments and oral medication: Depending on the severity of the warts. For example, to treat cluster of warts a doctor may prescribe a different ointment, than what he or she may prescribe for treating the discomfort on the infected Some ointment may cause mild irritation while applying. This type of treatment includes a rest circle, meaning that the patients are asked to withheld the application of ointment for a few days and then resume it. Antibiotics are of no use for genital wart.
- Surgical treatment: In a situation like over grown warts, doctors may be required to operate the affected areas. There are mainly four types of surgeries that can be carried out to treat the warts:
- Cryosurgery: In this type of surgery, doctors freeze the warts to eliminate the abnormal tissue.
- Electrocauterization: Complete removal of the warts from the genital area through heating abnormal tissue is called Electrocauterization.
- Laser therapy: In this type of surgery, warts are removed by using laser. This type of treatment can be prescribed to treat a large cluster of warts. Post laser therapy, some patient may experience soreness and irritation on the affected area.
- Surgical excision: In surgical excision, warts are cut off from the genital area.
The goal of all the available treatment is to remove all the abnormal cells (growths) and to remove all the cells infected by HPV. Don’t try to pick or pop them like pimples as that would irritate the affected skin and might cause outbreak in adjacent areas.
As mentioned above, genital warts are treatable but not curable forever. They are likely to come back after a few months of treatment. Therefore, after getting them treated one should make a routine to visit medical practitioner once in every three or six months to monitor any development of warts near the genital area. Besides, use of condom during sexual intercourse should also be encouraged as it can help in reducing the risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases.
Timely vaccination can also help in preventing warts. According to the Mayo Clinic, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends HPV vaccinations for girls and boys between the ages of 11 and 12(Mayo Clinic, 2012) for preventing the spread of sexually transmitted disease.
The HPV vaccinations, which focus on treating the symptoms of genital warts, are most affected if administered to patients before they indulge into any sexual activity. Regular HPV vaccinations works good in reducing the rate of contracting infection.
A healthy lifestyle is also advisable as unhealthy lifestyle has been associated with increased risk of recurring genital warts. Smokers have been found of having increased probability of developing genital warts. Quitting smoke can also help in prevent genital warts.
Patients with genital warts should not indulge in any type of sexual activity such as oral, anal or vaginal as it will not only increase discomfort, but may also increase the chances of others getting infected by it.
Are Genital Warts Lethal or Do They have Any Long Term Effects?
Genital warts are not really lethal no matter how long they last; however if left untreated they can convert into cancer. The chances of warts converting into cancer increase with the severity of warts. For example, excess accumulation of warts near rectal outlet may penetrate into bloodstream which could lead to abnormal cell changes in the infected area. This in turn may lead to cancer.