Warts and All: Symptoms of HPV
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that comes in many strains, most of which are low-risk, but some can lead to serious health issues such as certain types of cancer in both men and women.
There are at least 120 genetic variations of HPV, and about 80 percent of sexually active people will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives.
Many HPV strains don't actually present symptoms, and those that do show can resolve without treatment and manifest with decreased frequency over time. However, because certain strains of untreated HPV can lead to cervical, anal, vaginal and penile cancer, getting regular Pap smears and STD tests are an important step in keeping yourself and your sexual partners healthy.
Let's take a look at some of the symptoms that might indicate you have HPV.
Warts are the most common symptom associated with HPV, and it's not just confined to your genitals—HPV warts can show up in a variety of places.
Of course, genital warts are the most prevalent, and you're likely to see them primarily on your vulva, also around the male genitalia and the penile shaft. However, they can also be found on your anus, cervix or vagina. These warts typically look like tiny cauliflower-like clusters or small, red bumps. Generally, these warts won't hurt but they might itch.
Common warts frequently found on hands, fingers and feet are often the results of a low-risk HPV strain. These are not necessarily from sexual transmission and may have been acquired from skin exposure from shared objects in the environment.
While all of these warts can easily be treated by a doctor, they may also be an indication of low-risk HPV. Ask your doctor about HPV testing, especially if you are concerned about a new eruption of warts.
Oral HPV symptoms
Oral HPV may often be asymptomatic but it is important to be aware of the common symptoms since oral HPV puts individuals at a higher risk for certain types of oropharyngeal cancers.
These symptoms include:
- Lumps or growths on the neck or cheeks
- A constant sore throat or hoarse voice
- Trouble swallowing
- Coughing up blood or a cough that won't go away
- Weight loss
If you notice any of these symptoms, whether or not you know you have HPV, it's important to talk to a doctor right away. While not all strains of HPV can lead to oropharyngeal cancer, you should realize that too long a delay of diagnosis might have serious consequences.
As we've said, HPV (particularly the high-risk forms) is not likely to show any symptoms. Therefore, it's important to be aware that if you're sexually active, you should ask your doctor to test you and discuss the best ways to monitor for any symptoms.
Women can be tested for HPV when they go for their regularly scheduled Pap tests. There's no widely recognized test for HPV in men but you can talk to your doctor if you feel that you're high risk, as there are also anal pap smears being done now that would provide a reliable diagnosis.
Once your doctor orders a Pap smear test, further discussion around management and treatment will follow given the presence or detection of abnormal cells, even if the patient is not always symptomatic.
Most types of HPV will go undetected and may resolve on their own in a few years. Those with symptoms may experience a more gradual decline in frequency or symptoms over time. But given the risk of further spread of HPV and the threat of cancer, it's important for regular screening, especially if you're sexually active.
Both men and women should talk to their doctors about becoming vaccinated as this can protect against the more high-risk strains of HPV.