HPV: What it is, Signs and Symptoms
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Nearly all sexually active people contract it. If fact, nearly 79-million people are estimated to be currently infected. Each year, another 18-million people will be diagnosed with it. So, what is it?
HPV or Human Papillomavirus has over 100 unique types, many of which have no symptoms. These types are broken down into ‘low-risk’ and ‘high-risk.’ High-risk types of HPV usually have little to no signs and can cause serious health risks such as cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of HPV
Almost all sexually active people get HPV sometime in their lifetime. It is most commonly passed from partner to partner during vaginal or anal sex. However, it may be transferred during oral sex or intimate skin-to-skin conduct as well.
In many cases, certain types of the Human Papillomavirus will go away on its own. Other high-risk types may show zero symptoms and can lead to serious health issues such as cancer.
If you or your partner are experiencing any of the following symptoms for low-risk types of HPV, you should consider scheduling an appointment with your healthcare provider.
- Genital Warts-Soft, fleshy bumps
- Irritation or discomfort
- Itching or swelling
- Bleeding with intercourse
You should be aware that HPV can be passed from one partner to another even when there are no signs of symptoms. If you suspect you or your partner have HPV, preventive measures are recommended.
How is HPV Diagnosed?
Most people that have a high-risk type of HPV don’t even know they have it. Depending on the type very little signs are shown in the beginning stages. The longer the virus stays in your body, the bigger the chance that you’ll be at risk of developing health problems.
It is especially important to have regularly scheduled Pap Smears before real damage to your health can be done. Pap Smears do not directly test for HPV, however, they can detect abnormal cells in your cervix, that are often caused by HPV.
If your doctor diagnoses you with HPV, they may request that you get tested more regularly to ensure you are healthy and cancer free. Having HPV and getting cancer don’t always go hand in hand but it does put you at a higher risk for getting cancer down the line.
Being pro-active in treating an occurrence of HPV and regularly scheduling follow-up screenings and appointments with your OB/GYN can prevent serious health problems in your future.
Preventive Measures for HPV
The safest and most effective way of preventing HPV is a vaccine. Vaccines such as Gardasil can protect women from getting HPV by helping prevent the transmission of certain types of HPV.
Vaccines are more effective when given prior to exposure of Human Papillomavirus or sexual activity. HPV vaccines are recommended for both boys and girls starting at around the age of 11 or 12. A second dosage approximately 6 months to a year later is ideal.
Gardasil or other forms of HPV vaccination should be administered to young women throughout the age of 26 and in young men throughout the age of 21.
Even if you aren’t vaccinated, there are ways that sexually active people can lower their risk for contracting HPV or passing it to their partner.
- Use Latex Condoms. While condoms are not 100% effective, they can help limit skin-to-skin contact when used properly.
- Commit to Monogamous Sex. You are less likely to contract HPV if you and your partner are in a single partner relationship.
- Abstain from Sex. If you’ve recently be diagnosed with HPV, talk to your doctor about recommended abstinence.
Women who are concerned they may have or be at risk for contracting HPV should consult their doctor. Regular Pap Smears are important in catching HPV early and preventing it from causing more serious health issues.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with HPV, keep an open dialog with your health care provider. Together you can come up with a plan to be pro-active in treating it and screening for cancer in the future.
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