Signs and Symptoms of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Infection

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. If you currently are or have been sexually active, it is quite possible that you have been exposed to it. But knowing if you have been infected by HPV can be tricky. The virus may be present in your body for a while before it is detected through signs and symptoms such as lumps and itching.

Understanding what HPV infection does to your body and what changes you may (or may not) see is an important part of maintaining good health.

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Frequent Symptoms

The most frequent symptom of HPV infection is actually no symptoms at all. This is what doctors refer to as an asymptomatic infection.

It is even possible that you may have been infected by HPV and that your body cleared this infection without you even knowing it. This is called a transient infection. This type of HPV infection occurs most commonly in younger sexually active women.

A lack of symptoms is especially true for the high-risk strains of HPV. That is why it is so important to see your gynecologist regularly for exams and appropriate screening tests.

Less Frequent Symptoms

If you do develop symptoms of HPV infection it is likely because you have developed genital warts from the virus.

Genital Lumps and Bumps

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that is spread by direct skin to skin contact with a partner who is infected. That makes your genitals—the vulva and vagina for women and the penis and scrotum for men— are the most common sites for symptoms (if any are present). And, if your sex life includes or has included anal sex, these symptoms may occur around that area as well.

Thus, HPV infection causes genital warts. Genital warts are typically painless fleshy tissue growths that you may notice in the shower or while shaving or that your partner might notice during sex. It is important that you see your doctor if you have any growths or skin lesions on your genitals. HPV is not the only sexually transmitted infection that causes changes in the skin of your genitals.

Genital Itching 

Genital itching is not a symptom that is specific to HPV infection. There are many other causes of this symptom, including yeast infections and allergic reactions. But if you have noticed that your vulva has started itching in the same spot that you have a new flesh-like bump, chances are you may have a genital wart from HPV. This is a good time for you to see your gynecologist.

And as noted above, if you have had anal sex these symptoms could be occurring in that area as well. Although itching and a flesh-like growth in the area of your anus is much more likely to be a hemorrhoid, it is still important to let your doctor make that diagnosis.

Complications

The significant complications of HPV infection are related to the high-risk strains of HPV.

Fortunately, the majority of HPV infections are cleared by your body within a year or two. This is especially true for younger sexually active women and for sexually active men.

However, persistent infection with high-risk HPV can lead to serious and—if undetected and untreated—deadly diseases.

Precancerous Conditions of the Genital Tract

Certain types of HPV can cause changes in your body that can lead to conditions that, if left untreated, could ultimately lead to cancer.

Early detection of high-risk HPV and treating the cellular changes it causes in your body are essential in preventing gynecologic cancers. Seeing your gynecologist regularly and keeping up with your cervical cancer screening and getting treatment when appropriate is essential for prevention.

HPV-Related Cancer

HPV causes changes in the cells it infects. Over time, this can lead to events that transform normal cells into cancerous cells.

Your sex practices determine what parts of your body may be exposed to HPV infection. HPV can be transmitted by vaginal, anal, and oral sex. This is why early detection and treatment is essential in preventing these potentially deadly complications:

At the current time, we only have approved and reliable screening testing for the detection of genital tract HPV in women. This underscores the importance of regular physical exams. Women should take advantage of the screening test, and both men and women should discuss their sexual practices and be examined appropriately.

When to See a Doctor

You should see your doctor whenever you notice any changes in the appearance of your genitals or if you develop any unpleasant symptoms.

However, seeing your doctor regularly for wellness checks and getting the recommended screening tests is very important for your sexual and overall health.

For women, this is especially important when it comes to preventing the most common HPV-related cancer: cervical cancer. Remember that HPV infection and especially infection with high-risk HPV rarely if ever cause any symptoms until it has developed into an advanced gynecologic cancer, which is why appropriate check-ups and follow-ups are important.

What Causes HPV?
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View Article Sources
  • Erickson, B. K., Alvarez, R. D., & Huh, W. K. (2013). Human Papillomavirus: What Every Provider Should Know. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology208(3), 169–175. ​DOI: 10.1016/j.ajog.2012.09.007