Differentiating Genital Warts from Other Genital Disorders

Bumps and lesions in the genital area should not just be a cause for vain concern. It can mean one of several things including genital wart which is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease or STD triggered by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Of the hundreds of strains of HPV, only a few can cause genital warts, or otherwise known as condylomata acuminata.

HPV infection should be a serious concern of anyone who is sexually active. While some strains of the infection can cause venereal warts, a few high-risk strains are a common cause of cervical cancer as well as other lesser known cancers of the vulva, anus, mouth as well as the throat.

Genital warts are characterized by flesh or brown colored bumps that can be tiny or large and clustered. The lumps are observed on the external genitalia in women, the vaginal walls and the cervix. In men, on the other hand, it is commonly observed in the tip or shaft of the penis as well as on the scrotum. It also occurs around the anus in both men and women and may also appear in the oral cavity in rare cases as a result of oral sex with a carrier of the disease.

Mistaking Genital Warts for Other Conditions

There are other similar conditions that are often mistaken for genital warts.

1. Hirsuties Papillaris Genitalis

In men, the incidence of pearly penile papules (PPP), otherwise known as hirsuties papillaris genitalis, can often be mistaken for venereal warts. PPP appear as small, spherical lesions, often flesh-in color that neatly surround the corona of the glans penis and, may sometimes appear on the glans penis itself.

A similar condition observed in women is called vestibular papillae of the vulva. In both men and women, the papules may be undesirably sensitive. Yet these are harmless skin conditions, not diseases, as opposed to the venereal warts which are contagious.

2. Fordyce Spots

Fordyce spots are common tiny, painless raised spots that occur in the inner surface of the lips and the face that can also appear on the penis or labia. Like, hirsuties papillaris genitalis, it is an innocuous skin condition and does not pose any health threat as compared to genital warts.

3. Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum Contagiosum (MC) is another viral infection that is commonly misdiagnosed for genital warts. A particular strain of the MC virus is sexually transmitted among adults. Similar to PPP, these are pearly lesions, often flesh in color, that appear on the genitals, inner thighs, buttocks and lower abdomen of adults. The virus is contained in the waxy core of the lesions. It is, however, different from genital HPV.

Testing for Genital HPV

Anybody who contracts any genital skin abnormality should immediately seek medical attention. A doctor can determine at first glance whether it is really genital warts as opposed to hirsuties papillaris genitalis, Fordyce spots or Molluscum Contagiosum.

In some instances when the warts are not clearly visible to the naked eye, the doctor may apply a vinegar solution called acetic acid to highlight any flat warts. The bumps may be further analyzed using a colposcope, a common gynecological instrument with a lighted magnifying lens.

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