Genital warts are a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). These warts appear as small bumps or a group of bumps, usually in the genital area. Sometimes, the bumps are so small that you cannot see them.
Only certain types of HPV cause genital warts, and these are not the same types that can cause cancer.
You may have heard that HPV can go away on its own, and it often does.
But what about genital warts?
If HPV causes genital warts, doesn’t that mean that they can also go away on their own?
Yes, normally. But there’s more to story here, and this STD is very contagious.
Let’s look at the facts and what you can do to treat this sexually transmitted disease.
HPV Warts Facts
- About 360,000 people get genital warts each year.
- Gental warts are sometimes called venereal warts or condyloma acuminata.
- HPV warts is the most common STD that’s caused by a virus.
- Genital warts are grey or flesh-colored.
- Warts can appear in the genital and anal region.
- The condition affects both males and females.
- HPV warts are highly contagious.
- As much as 20% of people with genital warts also have other STDs.
- You can get genital warts during oral, vaginal or anal sex.
- Certain types of high-risk HPV can develop into cancer if left untreated.
- Only low-risk forms of HPV cause genital warts.
What’s the Difference Between HPV and Genital Warts?
If HPV is the cause of genital warts, does that mean that genital warts and HPV are the same thing? No.
There are more than 100 different strains of HPV, and not all of them cause genital warts. At least 30 of these strains are spread through sexual contact.
It is estimated that more than half of all sexually active adults are infected with at least one strain of HPV. At least 80% of women will have been exposed to at least one strain of HPV by the time reach 50 years of age.
The HPV 6 and HPV 11 strains account for about 90% of all genital warts.
Can HPV Go Away Without Treatment?
Experts say that most people will contract HPV at some point in their lives. HPV is asymptomatic, so many people have no idea they have it.
Here’s the good news: Many people also clear the virus without ever knowing they had it in the first place.
The CDC says that in 90% of cases, the immune system is able to clear the virus within two years.
But not all strains of HPV will go away on their own. Those that don’t can develop into cancer if left untreated.
There have been some cases where HPV has deeply penetrated the infected area and laid dormant for several years. These are known as latent infections. We don’t really know how many infections become latent or how many are cleared.
HPV Treatment Options
Because HPV is usually symptomless, most people have no idea that they have it. It usually clears up on its own, too. Most people become infected with HPV at some point, but they have absolutely no idea that it happened.
As you know, some strains of HPV can cause genital warts. Some are so small that you can’t see or feel them. But some people develop uncomfortable symptoms, like burning, itching and increased vaginal discharge.
There is no cure for HPV, but you can treat the symptoms. Treatments may include:
- Laser therapy: Lasers are used to burn away the abnormal cells.
- Topical medication: These include podophyllin, imiquimod and podofilox.
- Cryotherapy: Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze abnormal cells.
- Loop electrosurgical excision: Also known as LEEP, this procedure uses an electrical current to get rid of abnormal cells.
- Cone biopsy or conization: A procedure that removes a sample of abnormal tissue from the cervix.
Most people will not experience any complications or long-term problems from HPV and genital warts.
A pregnant woman may develop warts that increase in size. They may bleed or become infected. Genital warts can also be passed to a newborn during childbirth, but this is very rare.
There are some types of HPV that can cause changes in cells. When this happens, it can lead to penis, cervix, anus, throat and vulva cancer. Among all of these cancers, cervical cancer is the most common.
If you suspect that you might have symptoms of HPV or genital warts, get tested as soon as possible. The virus clears on its own in most cases, but not all cases. And there are treatments available that can help ease your symptoms.
It’s better to know your status and take care of the problem than to sit around and worry if you have this STD. It’s very common, and it’s very easy to treat. Getting tested will also determine whether you have other STDs.