Genital warts are a sexually transmitted disease caused by a specific type of virus and often characterized by small bumps located in the genital area. Although there is no foolproof medical cure for genital warts, there are a number of treatments that can eliminate the visible warts caused by the virus.
Genital warts are caused by the HPV, or human papillomavirus, which causes the development of flesh-colored, wart-like swellings on the vagina, vulva, cervix and other parts of the external genitalia on women and the penis, scrotum and anus on men. Because genital warts are transmitted exclusively through sexual activity, any form of sexual contact with a person infected with the disease can cause an outbreak, even in the mouth and throat if oral sex was involved.
There is no known cure for the HPV virus. Even when the bumps caused by the virus are removed, new outbreaks can occur. However, the Mayo Clinic says that approximately 30 percent of people who develop genital warts find the condition resolves itself completely without treatment.
For those who need treatment for their genital warts, there are two main avenues–medical and surgical. Medical treatments for the condition focus on breaking down the tissues and diminishing the appearance of the warts or helping the body fight off the development of more warts. The most common drugs used for medical genital wart treatment are Aldara, Condylox and trichloroacetic acid (TCA).
Four main surgical treatments are available for genital warts. Electrocautery involves using an electric current to burn the warts off. Cryotherapy is much the same, except it uses liquid nitrogen to quickly freeze off the warts. Laser surgery uses a highly focused laser beam; this treatment is usually reserved for genital wart outbreaks that are resistant to other forms of treatment. The most basic surgical treatment is surgical excision, in which the warts are simply cut off.
It is important to remember that while medical and surgical treatments may remove the warts, neither approach can eliminate the virus.
The main symptom of a genital wart outbreak is the development of wart-like bumps in the genital area. These bumps can be extremely large or so small that they cannot be seen. In many cases, these warts grow close together and resemble a head of cauliflower in appearance. Genital warts can also cause pain and itching in the genital area and bleeding during sexual intercourse.
The main risk factors for genital warts are having sex with multiple partners–particularly with partners whose sexual history is unknown to you–engaging in unprotected sex, becoming sexually active at a young age and having had other sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes or trichomoniasis. The Mayo Clinic reports that two-thirds of people exposed to the virus by a sexual partner develop the disease within three months to several years after exposure.
Certain strains of the human papillomavirus can cause cancer–cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus in women and cancer of the penis and anus in men. In addition, pregnant women with genital warts can experience a number of complications during delivery. The location of the warts may make vaginal delivery extremely difficult and, in the case of a normal delivery, the baby may develop the bumps characteristic of the disease in his mouth or throat. In many cases, women with genital warts are recommended to have Cesarean deliveries to avoid transmitting the virus to the newborn.