Warts are small, hard bumps on the skin or inner linings of the body that are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).


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Human papillomavirus (HPV)


What Are Warts?

Despite all the stories, warts are not caused by touching a frog. Warts are small, hard bumps on the skin or inner linings of the body that are caused by a virus—too small to be seen with the naked eye—called human papillomavirus (pap-i-LO-ma-VY-rus), or HPV. Warts can affect any part of the body, but most often they appear on the fingers, hands, arms, and feet. Warts also may occur in the genital area.

About one in four people have had a wart at some time. Children get warts more often than adults do. The virus that causes warts is passed from person to person. However, the chance of catching hand and foot warts is small. Warts grow more readily if the skin has been injured. This explains why people who bite their nails get warts so often. In addition, some people just seem to be more likely to get warts, just as some people catch colds more easily than others do.

What Do Warts Look Like?

The way a wart looks depends on where it is growing. Most warts are skin-colored, raised, and rough to the touch. However, some are dark, flat, or smooth. Warts usually are painless, except for plantar warts that grow on the bottoms of the feet. Plantar warts may have black dots in the center. When the pressure of walking causes plantar warts to flatten, they can be painful, feeling like a small rock in the shoe.

How Are Warts Treated?

In children, warts often go away without any treatment, sometimes after a few months and sometimes after a few years. In adults, however, warts usually do not go away without treatment. Methods of treatment include:

  • Dissolving warts with non-prescription lotions available over the counter at drugstores
  • Dissolving warts with stronger lotions prescribed by doctors
  • Removing warts by laser * surgery
  • Freezing warts with liquid nitrogen or other cold liquid
  • Burning warts with an electric needle

It is important to check with a doctor before using non-prescription lotions to remove warts. Many treatments for warts can remove healthy skin along with the wart itself, and treatments may cause scarring or infection, particularly for people who have diabetes or other conditions that affect the circulatory system. Doctors usually can identify warts by looking at them, and can make sure that the growth being treated really is a wart and not a different skin condition or skin cancer.

* laser surgery uses a very narrow and intense beam of light that can destroy body tissue.


American Academy of Dermatology, 930 North Meachum Road, Schaumburg, IL 60173. The AAD posts a fact sheet about warts, in both English and Spanish, at its website.
Telephone 888-462-DERM

KidsHealth.org , sponsored by the Nemours Foundation, posts a fact sheet about warts, with pictures, at its website.

American Podiatric Medical Association, 9312 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, MD 20814-1698. The APMA posts a fact sheet about plantar warts at its website.
Telephone 800-FOOTCARE

See also
Genital warts
Skin Conditions
Viral Infections

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