Vaginal warts are growths in the vagina that represent infection with one of several sexually transmitted strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). The term vaginal warts is less familiar than the more frequently used term, genital warts. This is due to the fact that warts may appear elsewhere, such as on the vulva, in the area between the vagina and the anus, on the areas just outside of the vagina, and on the cervix. Men can also get genital warts, on the penis, anus or on the testicles. Both men and women may develop them in the throat if they practice oral sexual activities with an infected person.
When women develop any form of vaginal warts, they may or may not notice they have them. If the warts are located on vaginal walls, they’re not apparent, and sometimes an infection of genital warts produces such tiny warts, that even if they’re located in more obvious places, they still may not be noticed. In general, the warts are small and can be flesh or gray-colored. They get more noticeable if two or more warts grow together, and these may take on what is described as a “cauliflower appearance.”
Since vaginal warts aren’t always easy to see, women may need to rely on different symptoms that suggest their presence. These could include itchiness or general discomfort and/or irritation. Sometimes warts will bleed during intercourse, making intercourse painful. These sensations need to be especially monitored if they occur during pregnancy, because HPV infections can be dormant for long periods of time and may be prone to expression when women are pregnant.
There are several concerns with the development of vaginal warts, and medical attention is needed when they appear and thereafter. In some cases, warts can grow so large that they become exceptionally uncomfortable, even blocking things like the urethra, making urination difficult. Excessively large warts may need to be removed, and doctors have various methods for effective removal that include using chemicals to destroy wart tissue, or that can be more extensive and surgical in nature and might employ electrical current, lasers, freezing or scalpel excision.
The fact that warts are symptomatic of HPV infection poses an additional problem. Those strains of HPV linked to genital warts are also linked to significantly increased risk for cervical cancer. If a woman develops a strain of HPV with this potential, she will need to make certain that she has regular follow-ups with a gynecologist and yearly pap-smears to check for presence of cancerous cells.
It’s also vital to realize that vaginal warts are highly contagious and can easily spread to partners. People most at risk for developing these are those who have unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners or who become sexually active at early ages. There are preventative treatments, including cervical cancer vaccines like Gardasil®. Safer sex practices like condom use can also minimize infection risk.