Everyone has to deal with the inconvenience of skin irritations once in a while. These problems can range from anything like dry skin and eczema, to more severe issues such as cystic acne. Sometimes, a sexually transmitted infection can have an effect on the skin. Genital warts is one way that certain infections can manifest.
Although both women and men can experience this uncomfortable problem, the symptoms and consequences may be different for women than for men. Luckily, there are ways to diagnose, manage, and treat genital warts so that they don’t get in the way of your everyday life.
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Vaginal Warts in Women
It is important to know what causes genital warts. Genital warts are caused by certain strains of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). It is not the same as the infection that produces warts on places like your hand or foot, and there are over 70 types of HPV that can affect the genitals. They can cause pain, itching, and severe discomfort. Transmission is achieved primarily through sexual activity.
Although anyone is able to get genital warts, those who are the most vulnerable include:
- Anyone under the age of 30.
- Those with compromised immune systems.
- Those whose mother had the virus at the time of childbirth.
When a woman contracts the sexually transmitted infection of genital warts, they can appear in different vaginal locations.
Most vaginal warts are soft growths and can vary in size from tiny, to somewhat large. They may be flat or have a cauliflower shaped top to them and tend to grow in clusters. Usually, they are skin-colored, pink, or red. Sometimes they can’t be seen by the naked eye and may need further testing to diagnose. If you have vaginal warts, it is important to know that you can transmit them to your partner through oral sex as well. The warts would then show up in their mouth, lips, tongue, and throat.
Some Signs and Symptoms of Genital Warts in Women
Vaginal warts don’t always show up right away. They can take weeks to appear after infection, and may remain small, or continue to grow large. The main symptoms consist of itching, discomfort, bleeding, burning, and unusual vaginal discharge. These may occur even before the warts appear on the skin.
For a more detailed definition of genital warts, click here.
Steps to a diagnosis
If you find yourself with this problem, getting to a physician for diagnosis is important.
Several things may happen in a effort to diagnose your vaginal warts:
- Your doctor will do a physical exam of the areas you believe warts to be growing.
- An acidic solution may be used to make tiny warts easier to locate.
- A physician may also swab the area to send off for testing. This may include tests for a particular type of HPV strain, and a swab for cervical abnormalities.
Once a confirmed diagnosis is made, treatment can begin.
Since there are so many different strains of HPV, it can be difficult to determine which kind you have simply from your symptoms. While most strains do not cause cancer, there are strains that do. If you have vaginal warts, it is important to see your physician right away for further testing and treatment. Leaving HPV unchecked may cause health problems in the future.
Where they appear
Vaginal warts can show up in all areas inside and around the vagina and cause varying levels of discomfort depending on where they are located.
- Most cases of vaginal warts appear on the Vulva, or the outside area of the vagina.
- Many times, the warts appear inside of the vagina. Sometimes, they are found around the anus.
- One out of ten cases of vaginal warts appear on the cervix.
- Least commonly, they may appear at the opening to the urethra.
Complications with vaginal warts
Not only are vaginal warts uncomfortable, they can have lasting effects on your body if left untreated. Human Papilloma Virus is the number one cause of cervical cancer. If the warts are located on the cervix, this will increase your chances of the cancer even further. HPV may also cause cancer to the vulva and anus. Dysplasia may occur, where cells are enlarged and become precancerous. Vaginal warts around the urethra may grow to a size that partially block the opening, making it hard or painful for you to urinate.
There are also complications that may occur if you are pregnant. HPV can make it harder for tissues to stretch, increasing the chances that you will need a cesarean section.
Treatment Options for Vaginal Warts in Women
The best way to avoid vaginal warts is prevention through the use of condoms. A vaccine, Gardasil, is available that can be given from age 9 up to 26 years. Gardasil is used to protect against the specific strains of HPV that cause warts, as well as the strains known to cause cervical cancer. This is given by injection and is the most effective if received before you become sexually active.
It is essential to discuss your vaginal warts with a sexual partner, to protect them from contracting the infection as well. The growths usually will go away, either on their own or through treatment, but the virus will remain in your bloodstream, meaning that you are still able to transmit it to someone through sexual activity.
Top 5 Medications for Vaginal Warts
Female genital warts are not curable, in that you cannot rid your body of the Human Papilloma Virus that causes them. But you can rid yourself of its symptoms. Although vaginal warts often will go away on their own over time, there are options available to get rid of them much faster. For cervical warts, always consult a physician, as the treatment will most likely differ than other areas. The most common first line of treatment will be a topical medication. It is recommended that you not use any over-the-counter wart removers on vaginal warts.
- Imiquimod: Also known as Aldara, this cream is in a class of medication known as Immune Response Modifiers. This type of prescription medication helps to simulate your body’s immune system to fight off the virus that causes the vaginal warts. Do not use the cream on the inside of your vagina or anus.
You should avoid sexual contact while the cream is on your skin. Imiquimod can compromise the effectiveness of condoms and diaphrams.
- Podofilox: This prescription gel is also known as Condylox. It works by preventing the growth of the vaginal warts. Do not engage in sexual activity while using the gel. Podofilox should only be used on the outside of the vagina or anus and is not to be used while pregnant.
- Podophyllin Resin: This is a drug that will stop the growth of new wart cells. Your doctor will apply it to your vaginal warts in the office. Side effects may include redness, itching, and burning. Do not use while pregnant.
- Trichloroacetic Acid: TCA is used to burn the tissues of the wart itself, destroying it completely. Your provider will apply this in their office, to control the amount used, as TCA can burn the layers of skin surrounding the vaginal warts as well.
- Sinecatechin: Also known as Veregen, this prescription ointment is derived from Green Tea Extract and can be applied daily at home. It should not be washed off after use. Avoid sexual contact while using Sinecatechin, as it can compromise condoms and diaphrams. Side effects can include burning, itching, and redness.
If you choose to use topical medication for your vaginal warts, this is often effective enough to rid yourself of them. Surgery is the most extreme option and most often used only for large or resilient warts. Remember, although treatment may make your vaginal warts go away, they will most likely appear again in the future with another outbreak.
If medication doesn’t get rid of your vaginal warts, your physician may recommend surgery.
There are several options available:
- Cryosurgery: In this procedure, your physician will use liquid Nitrogen to freeze the wart tissue. This kind of surgery should be done by a trained professional and is not usually used for vaginal warts that are widespread. Side effects include burning, redness, itching, vaginal discharge and blistering. Skin may slough off from the site. Cryosurgery has been shown to be very effective at removing vaginal warts.
- Surgical Excision: Sometimes you may get your vaginal warts removed through excision, or cutting. A physician will use a sharp tool to cut out the layers of warts. The sites will then be sutured, or stitched, and given time to heal over.
- Laser Surgery: This procedure is done by your doctor using a special laser tool. The heat of the laser will cut out the vaginal wart, similar to regular excision, but destroys less of your normal tissue and results in less bleeding. Side effects are pain, redness, bleeding, and discharge. Laser surgery is a good option for those with warts on their clitoris.
Remember, prevention is the number one way to avoid sexual infections. If you do end up with vaginal warts, it may seem like a horrible plague that will follow you forever, but in reality, it is a very treatable condition. Human Papilloma Virus cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be handled and treated. Through medication and surgery, vaginal warts don’t have to stop you from living your life.
For more information on living with vaginal warts, click here.