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Home > Health Library > Warts and Plantar Warts
This topic has information about warts on any part of the body except the genitals. For information about warts on the genitals, see the topic Genital Warts.
A wart is a skin growth caused by some types of the virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infects the top layer of skin, usually entering the body in an area of broken skin. The virus causes the top layer of skin to grow rapidly, forming a wart. Most warts go away on their own within months or years.
Warts can grow anywhere on the body, and there are different kinds. For example, common warts grow most often on the hands, but they can grow anywhere. Plantar warts grow on the soles of the feet.
Warts are easily spread by direct contact with a human papillomavirus. You can infect yourself again by touching the wart and then touching another part of your body. You can infect another person by sharing towels, razors, or other personal items. After you've had contact with HPV, it can take many months of slow growth beneath the skin before you notice a wart.
It is unlikely that you will get a wart every time you come in contact with HPV. Some people are more likely to get warts than others.
Warts come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. A wart may be a bump with a rough surface, or it may be flat and smooth. Tiny blood vessels grow into the core of the wart to supply it with blood. In both common and plantar warts, these blood vessels may look like dark dots in the wart's center.
Warts are usually painless. But a wart that grows in a spot where you put pressure, such as on a finger or on the bottom of the foot, can be painful.
A doctor usually can tell if a skin growth is a wart just by looking at it. Your doctor may take a sample of the wart and look at it under a microscope (a skin biopsy). This may be done if it isn't clear that the growth is a wart. It may also be done if a skin growth is darker than the skin surrounding it, is an irregular patch on the skin, bleeds, or is large and fast-growing.
Most warts don't need treatment. But if you have warts that are painful or spreading, or if you are bothered by the way they look, your treatment choices include:
Wart treatment doesn't always work. Even after a wart shrinks or goes away, warts may come back or spread to other parts of the body. This is because most treatments destroy the wart but don't kill the virus that causes the wart.
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A wart develops when a human papillomavirus (HPV) infects the outer layer of skin and causes the skin cells to grow rapidly. The virus can then spread from an existing wart to other areas of the body, causing more warts. Various types of this virus thrive in warm, damp environments such as showers, locker room floors, and swimming pool areas.
You are most likely to develop a wart where you have broken skin, such as a cut, a hangnail, a closely bitten nail, or a scrape. Plantar warts are common in swimmers whose feet are not only damp and softened but are also scratched and broken by rough pool surfaces. Common warts are often seen among those who handle meat, chicken, and fish.
Warts are easily spread by direct contact with a human papillomavirus. You can reinfect yourself by touching the wart and then touching another part of your body. You can infect others by sharing towels, razors, or other personal items. After exposure to a human papillomavirus, it can take many months of slow growth beneath the skin before you notice a wart.
It is unlikely that you will develop a wart every time you are exposed to a human papillomavirus. Some people are more likely to develop warts than others.
It depends. There are many types of HPV, and the types that cause common warts are usually different from those that cause plantar warts and genital warts. If the wart on a person's hand is caused by a type of HPV that can also cause genital warts, then there is a chance that skin contact could cause genital warts.
But common warts don't cause the type of genital warts that lead to high-risk cancers.
Warts occur in a variety of shapes and sizes. A wart may appear as a bump with a rough surface, or it may be flat and smooth. Tiny blood vessels (capillaries) grow into the core of the wart to supply it with blood. In both common and plantar warts, these capillaries may appear as dark dots (seeds) in the wart's center.
Warts cover the lines and creases in the skin—this is one way to tell a wart from other skin conditions, such as skin tags or moles.
Human papillomaviruses can live on healthy skin without causing infection. But when a human papillomavirus enters the body through small breaks in the skin, it can infect the skin cells beneath the surface, causing a wart to grow.
Risk factors for warts include:
See your doctor if:
Watchful waiting is a period of time during which you and your doctor observe your symptoms or condition without using medical treatment. It is often appropriate treatment for warts, because they generally go away on their own within months or years. But you may want to consider treating a wart to prevent it from spreading to other parts of your body or to other people. You can try a nonprescription wart treatment for 2 to 3 months before deciding to see a doctor.
Warts can be diagnosed and treated by most health professionals, including:
Warts are usually diagnosed based only on their appearance.
In rare cases, more testing is done. If the diagnosis of a skin condition is unclear or if you are at high risk for having skin cancer, your doctor may take a sample of the growth and examine it (a skin biopsy). A biopsy is usually done if a skin growth is darker than the skin surrounding it, appears as an irregular patch on the skin, bleeds, or is large and growing rapidly.
Proper diagnosis of plantar warts is important. Some wart treatments can cause scarring.
Not all warts need to be treated. They generally go away on their own within months or years. This may be because, with time, your immune system is able to destroy the human papillomavirus that causes warts.
You may decide to treat a wart if it is:
The goal of wart treatment is to destroy or remove the wart without creating scar tissue, which can be more painful than the wart itself. How a wart is treated depends on the type of wart, its location, and its symptoms. Also important is your willingness to follow a course of treatment that can last for weeks or months.
Wart treatment isn't always successful. Even after a wart shrinks or disappears, warts may return or spread to other parts of the body. This is because most treatments only destroy the wart and don't kill the virus that causes the wart.
Many people don't treat warts unless they are unsightly or painful. You can treat warts yourself with:
If your child has a wart, treatment probably isn't needed. That's because warts often go away on their own. But if the wart is on your child's face or genitals or is painful or spreading, your child should see a doctor for treatment. Otherwise, it is usually safe to treat a wart at home with duct tape or salicylic acid. If the wart doesn't start to improve within 2 weeks, see your doctor.
For more information, see Home Treatment.
If you have diabetes or peripheral arterial disease, talk to your doctor before you try home treatment for warts.
Your doctor can treat warts with:
It's important to distinguish a plantar wart from a callus before choosing a treatment. Wart treatment applied to a callus may be painful or create scar tissue.
Plantar warts are often hard to treat because they lie beneath the skin. A doctor may need to pare the skin over a wart to help the medicine penetrate the wart.
Before treating your warts, think about:
The main way to prevent warts is to avoid contact with the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes warts. If you are exposed to this virus, you may or may not get warts, depending on how susceptible you are to the virus.
Home treatment is often the first treatment used for warts. When done properly, home treatment is usually less painful than surgical treatment.
Home treatment includes:
If you are uncertain that a skin growth is a wart, or if you have diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, or other major illnesses that may affect your treatment, it is best to see a health professional.
You can reduce plantar wart pain by:
Salicylic acid treatments are often effective. They aren't very painful, aren't very expensive, and usually don't cause scarring. Salicylic acid is a good treatment for children because it isn't very painful. For treatment to be successful, salicylic acid must be applied on a regular basis, usually for a number of months.
Folk remedies, such as rubbing a wart with a bean, may have an effect on a wart. But such treatment may simply coincide with the natural disappearance of a wart.
Never cut or burn off a wart yourself.
If you decide to treat your warts, both nonprescription and prescription medicines are available.
Nonprescription medicines include:
Medicines that your doctor may use or prescribe for you include:
Other medicines used for warts include 5-fluorouracil, which is more often used on genital warts, and cimetidine. Cimetidine can be taken by mouth (orally) or as an injection.
As with any medicine, talk to your doctor before using a wart medicine if you are or may be pregnant. Some wart medicines may cause birth defects.
Surgery is an option if home treatment and treatment at your doctor's office have failed. Surgery for warts is usually quick and effective. No single surgical method is more effective than another in removing warts. Generally, doctors start with the surgical method that is least likely to cause scarring.
The most common types of surgical treatment for wart removal include:
A wart may return after surgery, because surgery removes the wart but doesn't destroy the virus that causes the wart.
The type of surgery used to remove warts depends on the warts' type, location, and size. Curettage, electrosurgery, and laser surgery are more likely than cryotherapy to leave scars, so they are usually reserved for hard-to-remove or recurring warts. If you have a large area of warts, curettage may not be an effective treatment.
Some surgical treatments may be too painful for some children.
Cryotherapy, which uses a very cold liquid to freeze a wart, is the most commonly used procedure that doesn't involve medicine to treat warts. This procedure poses little risk of scarring but can be painful.
Other Works Consulted
Ahmed I (2010). Viral warts. In MG Lebwohl et al., eds., Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies, 3rd ed., pp. 770-775. Edinburgh: Saunders Elsevier.
Habif TP, et al. (2011). Herpes simplex section of Viral infections. In Skin Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment, 3rd ed., pp. 224–229. Edinburgh: Saunders.
Wolff K, Johnson RA (2009). Human papillomavirus infections. In Fitzpatrick's Color Atlas and Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology, 6th ed., pp. 787-794. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Current as of: April 1, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Patrice Burgess, MD, FAAFP - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Current as of:
April 1, 2019
Medical Review:Patrice Burgess, MD, FAAFP - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
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