Warts

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Overview

Warts are non-cancerous (benign) skin growths that develop on different parts of the body and come in various forms. They are caused by viruses. Warts are contagious and very common: Most people will have one at some point in their lives. Although they can affect people at any age, warts are most common among children and teenagers.

Most warts are harmless and will go away on their own within a few weeks or months. But they can be bothersome and unattractive, and some people feel ashamed. There are a number of different treatments that can make warts go away more quickly – but they don't always work.

Viral warts aren't the same as “senile warts” (seborrheic keratosis), which usually first appear in older age and aren't contagious. Senile warts are also quite harmless, but permanent. This information is about viral warts only.

Symptoms

In women, genital warts can grow on the vulva, the walls of the vagina, the area between the external genitals and the anus, the anal canal, and the cervix. In men, they may occur on the tip or shaft of the penis, the scrotum, or the anus.

Genital warts can also develop in the mouth or throat of a person who has had oral sexual contact with an infected person.

The signs and symptoms of genital warts include:

Small, flesh-colored, brown or pink swellings in your genital area

A cauliflower-like shape caused by several warts close together

Itching or discomfort in your genital area

Bleeding with intercourse

Causes

Common warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus is quite common and has more than 150 types, but only a few cause warts on your hands. Some strains of HPV are acquired through sexual contact.

Risk factors

Injuries to the skin.

Skin infections that break the skin surface.

Frequently getting the hands wet.

Hands or feet that sweat heavily (hyperhidrosis).

Swimming in public swimming pools.

Nail biting.

Direct contact with other people's warts.

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Complications

HPV infection complications can include:

Cancer. Cervical cancer has been closely linked with genital HPV infection. Certain types of HPV also are associated with cancers of the vulva, anus, penis, and mouth and throat.


HPV infection doesn't always lead to cancer, but it's important for women to have regular Pap tests, particularly those who've been infected with higher risk types of HPV.

Problems during pregnancy. Rarely during pregnancy, warts can enlarge, making it difficult to urinate. Warts on the vaginal wall can inhibit the stretching of vaginal tissues during childbirth. Large warts on the vulva or in the vagina can bleed when stretched during delivery.

Extremely rarely, a baby born to a mother with genital warts develops warts in the throat. The baby might need surgery to keep the airway from being blocked.

Prevention

Limiting your number of sexual partners and being vaccinated will help prevent you from getting genital warts. Using a condom every time you have sex is a good idea, but won't necessarily protect you from genital warts.

Vaccination

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 and 12, although it can be given as early as age 9.

It's ideal for girls and boys to receive the vaccine before they have sexual contact.

Side effects from the vaccines are usually mild and include soreness at the injection site, headaches, a low-grade fever or flu-like symptoms.

The CDC now recommends that all 11- and 12-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart, instead of the previously recommended three-dose schedule. Younger adolescents ages 9 and 10 and teens ages 13 and 14 also are able to receive vaccination on the updated two-dose schedule. Research has shown that the two-dose schedule is effective for children under 15.

Teens and young adults who begin the vaccine series later, at ages 15 through 26, should continue to receive three doses of the vaccine.

The CDC now recommends catch-up HPV vaccinations for all people through age 26 who aren't adequately vaccinated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of Gardasil 9 for males and females ages 9 to 45. If you're ages 27 to 45, discuss with your doctor whether he or she recommends that you get the HPV vaccine.

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