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What are Warts?

The largest organ on your body is your skin. If the top layer of the skin gets an infection from a virus, you may notice an appearance of skin growths. These growths are called warts. Warts are not cancerous. They are caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV).

You can get warts from another person, or spread it yourself through touch or nail biting. HPV can also enter the body through damaged or cut skin.

There are several types of warts. The type is determined by where it is growing and what it looks like on the skin. Here are the common types of warts:

Common warts. These warts will appear on the fingers, around the nails, and on the back of your hands. You may notice these types of warts feel like rough bumps.

Foot (plantar) warts. These warts will appear on the soles of the feet. The warts tend to grow in clusters and may be painful.

Flat warts. These warts can occur anywhere on the body. You may notice these warts are smaller than common warts. Flat warts tend to grow in large numbers.

Filiform warts. These warts often grows on the fingers. They may appear to have long threads. Filiform warts tend to grow very quickly.

Genital warts. These warts are caused by a strain of HPV that spreads by unprotected sexual activity. Some types of genital warts may cause cervical cancer.


Common symptoms of warts may include the following:

  • Small, fleshy, grainy bumps (or growths) that appear on the fingers, hands, face, arms, or legs.
    • The growths may be rough or painful to the touch
    • The growths may have small black pinpoints, which are small, clotted blood vessels

When to See a Doctor

You should contact your health provider if:

  • You’ve tried treating the warts yourself, and they don’t go away
  • The warts are painful
  • The warts interfere with daily activities
  • You have a weakened immune system
  • You have a fever, or other symptoms of infection


Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 types of HPV, but only a few cause warts. You can also contract warts from skin-to-skin contact with other individuals who have warts. You can spread warts to other places on your body.

Diagnosis and Tests

In most cases, your healthcare provider can diagnose warts by a simply visual exam. Other tests may include the following:

  • Removing a small section of the wart and sending it to a laboratory (biopsy)
  • Scraping off the top layer of the wart to check for clotted blood vessels, which are common with warts


Most common warts go away without treatment. If the warts don’t go away, or are bothersome, your healthcare provider may recommend the following treatments:

Over-the-counter wart medicines.

Salicylic acid. This prescription-strength wart medication removes layers of the wart a little bit at a time.

Freezing (cryotherapy). During cryotherapy, a physician will apply liquid nitrogen to your wart. The liquid nitrogen causes a blister to form under and around your wart. Over time, the dead tissue from the wart will fall off.

Acid treatments. Aside from salicylic acid, your physician may try stronger acids to remove the warts.

Laser treatment. During a laser treatment, your physician will use a small laser to burn tiny blood vessels surrounding the wart. The infected tissue eventually dies and the wart will fall off. This treatment may cause pain and scarring.


There are some precautionary measures you can take to reduce your risk of getting warts. These measures include the following:

  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid biting and chewing your fingernails
  • Use moisturize, especially if your hands are dry or cracked
  • Wear sandals or flip flops in public showers, locker rooms, and around swimming pools
  • Don’t share razors, towels, or socks with another person

Support and Resources

Warts are benign (not cancerous) skin growths caused by viruses. A virus that cause warts is called a human papillomavirus (HPV). Warts usually go away without treatment.