Warts

Alternative names
Plane juvenile warts; Periungual warts; Subungual warts; Plantar warts; Verruca; Verrucae planae juveniles; Filiform warts; Verruca vulgaris

Definition

Warts are small, usually painless growths on the skin caused by a virus. They are generally harmless. However, warts can be disfiguring and embarrassing, and occasionally they itch or hurt (particularly on the feet).

The different types of warts include:

     
  • Common warts: usually appear on the hands, but can appear anywhere.  
  • Flat warts: generally found on the face and forehead. Common in children, less so in teens, and rare in adults.  
  • Genital warts: usually found on the genitals, in the pubic area, and the area between the thighs, but can appear inside the vagina and anal canal.  
  • Plantar warts: found on the soles of the feet.  
  • Subungual and periungual warts: appear under and around the fingernails or toenails

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The typical wart is a raised round or oval growth on the skin with a rough surface. Compared with the surrounding normal skin, warts may appear light, dark, or black (rare). Most adults are familiar with the look of a typical wart and have little trouble recognizing them. Unusual warts with smooth surfaces or flat warts in children may be more difficult for parents to recognize.

Common warts tend to cause no discomfort unless they are in areas of repeated friction or pressure. Plantar warts, for example, can become extremely painful. Large numbers of plantar warts on the foot may cause difficulty running and even walking.

Warts around and under your nails are much more difficult to cure than warts elsewhere.

Some warts will disappear without treatment, although it can sometimes take a couple years. Treated or not, warts that go away often reappear. Genital warts are quite contagious, while common, flat, and plantar warts are much less likely to spread from person to person. All warts can spread from one part of your own body to another.

Because people generally consider warts unsightly and there is often a social stigma, treatment is often sought.

Symptoms

     
  • Small, hard, flat or raised skin lesion or lump  
  • Abnormally dark or light skin surrounding the lesion  
  • Numerous small, smooth, flat (pinhead sized) lesions on forehead, cheeks, arms, or legs  
  • Rough, round, or oval lesions on soles of feet; flat to slightly raised; painful to pressure  
  • Rough growths around or under fingernails or toenails

Signs and tests
Warts can generally be diagnosed simply by their location and appearance. Your doctor may want to cut into a wart (called a biopsy) to confirm that it is not a corn, callus, or other similar-appearing growth.

Treatment

Over-the-counter medications can remove warts. These are applied to the wart every day for several weeks. DO NOT use these medications on your face or genitals. It helps to file the wart down when damp (for example, after a bath or shower) before applying these medications.

Special cushions are available at drugstores for plantar warts. These pads help relieve any pressure and pain from the warts.

Stronger (prescription) medications may be required for removal of persistent warts. Surgical removal or removal by freezing (cryotherapy), burning (electrocautery), or laser treatment may be needed.

Immunotherapy, done by injecting a substance that causes an allergic reaction, may also be considered by your doctor.

DO NOT attempt to remove a wart yourself by burning, cutting, tearing, picking, or any other method.

Interestingly, placing duct tape over a wart may help it disappear. A small study had people wear duct tape for six straight days, remove it, wet and scrape the wart down using a file, and then reapply the tape the next morning. This was done until the wart disappeared, but no longer than two months. The people wearing the duct tape had as much luck getting rid of their warts as those who had their warts frozen off by a doctor. This method might be worth a try if you have a painless, yet unsightly wart.

Expectations (prognosis)
Warts are generally harmless growths that often go away on their own within two years. They can be contagious, but transmission from person to person is uncommon. Warts may be unsightly or cause discomfort, especially on the feet.

Complications

     
  • Spread of warts  
  • Return of warts that disappeared  
  • Minor scar formation if the wart is removed  
  • Formation of keloids after removal

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your doctor if:

     
  • There are signs of infection (red streaking, pus, discharge, or fever) or bleeding. Warts can bleed a little, but if bleeding is significant or not easily stopped by light pressure, see a doctor.  
  • Your warts do not respond to self care and you want it removed.  
  • You have pain associated with the wart.  
  • You have anal or genital warts.  
  • You have diabetes or a weakened immune system (for example, HIV) and have developed warts.  
  • There is any change in the color or appearance of the wart.

Prevention

     
  • Avoid direct skin contact with a wart on someone else.  
  • After filing your wart, wash the file carefully since you can spread the virus to other parts of your body.  
  • After touching any of your warts, wash your hands carefully.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.