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The Symptoms of HPV in Women

There are over 100 strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) and they can cause a variety of different symptoms; however, many HPV infections create no symptoms at all. While HPV is a common infection, most people who have it are completely unaware of the fact. The most commonly-recognized HPV symptom in women is genital warts; this is also the most common HPV symptom that is experienced by people who have the infection.

HPV is spread by skin to skin contact. Genital HPV is spread by sexual intercourse or by any other contact with infected genitals; it not necessary to have intercourse to transmit or contract HPV. This fact is important to be understood regarding the spread of HPV, especially by young people. Because it is so easily spread and contracted, most people will have HPV at least once in their lives.

The HPV virus symptoms that a woman may experience depend on the type or strain of the virus they have contracted. The most common symptom, and the most-easily recognized, is genital warts. These may occur anywhere in the genital or anal area but are usually found on the vulva, the cervix, around or in the anus or vagina.

These warts are soft and moist, flesh colored or pink; they may be flat on the skin, rounded and raised or shaped much like a cauliflower. Genital warts caused by the human papillomavirus might occur in groups or just singly. They can appear within weeks or months of the woman being infected.

Some strains of HPV virus cause pre-cancerous changes to the cervix, vulva or anus, which may develop into more serious cancers. While this is the exception rather than the rule, HPV remains the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. Those who are most at risk of developing cancer are those women who have had an HPV infection for many years – 10 years or more. Unfortunately, not all these women will be aware that they have been infected.

Of the 14 or so strains of HPV that have been identified as high risk for causing cancer, HPV 16 and 18 are the most common. The common HPV symptom of genital warts can help to identify the type of HPV infection – those that may lead to cancer are usually flat and almost invisible.

These signs of HPV may be picked up during a regular Pap test, which is one of the important reasons every woman should consider this test a necessary part of her health routine. The earlier pre-cancerous changes or cervical cancer is detected, the better the chance of successful treatment and recovery.

Recognizing the symptoms of HPV is an important step in preventing the spread of the virus but, as there is no known cure as yet, it won't help those who are already infected. Identifying the strain of HPV can determine whether it is dangerous or not and certain lifestyle changes can help to strengthen the body's own immune system to fight off the virus. The HPV vaccine is proving effective at preventing many of the common types of this infection, including those that can lead to cervical cancer.

With HPV, discovering signs or symptoms is not an accurate means of identifying whether you have the infection or not. Remember, most women have absolutely no idea that they have been infected until more serious symptoms of cervical cancer appear.

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