Definition of Warts and Causes

WartWart is a growth, typically rough and raised, that appears on the skin. The human papillomavirus (HPV), which has numerous strains, causes common warts as well as variations including genital warts (a common sexually transmitted disease) and plantar warts which appear on the soles (plantar surfaces) of the feet.

Because common warts are viral, physical contact can spread them to other locations on the affected person’s body. However, common warts rarely spread to other people.

Symptoms and Diagnostic Path

Most common warts begin with a small, rough, raised bumps that can be the same color as the surrounding skin or discolored (typically pale). As they grow they take on the characteristic appearance of warts. Small dark dots sometimes appear inside the wart, which are clotted blood vessels though people commonly call them wart seeds.

The “seed” of the wart is the HPV, and it is not visible. Warts seldom hurt or itch, though may do either as well as bleed when they are in locations that expose them to frequent irritation.

Treatment Options and Outlook

From a medical perspective, warts are harmless and do not require treatment. Because common warts continue to spread, however, it is prudent to remove them when they are small and few. Though the health consequence of warts is primarily cosmetic, warts that cluster in areas such as around the fingertips can create functional interference. Common therapies the dermatologist may use for removing warts include

  • Cryotherapy, such as treatment with liquid nitrogen, which freezes the wart
  • Electrodesiccation, which cauterizes or burns off the wart
  • Cantharidin, a topical chemical solution that forms a blister which raises the wart from the skin
  • Topical salicylic acid, which chemically destroys the wart

Surgical remedies such as excision or laser therapy are effective and may be necessary for warts that resist other efforts, though they have substantially greater risks, including infection and scarring. Oddly enough, an application of duct tape over the wart appears as successful as any other therapy for causing common warts to resolve.

Most over-the-counter products for wart removal require multiple applications though are ultimately successful for those who are patient. Because they are viral, common warts tend to recur for as long as the HPV remains in the body, and HPV is extraordinarily difficult to eradicate.

Risk Factors and Preventive Measures

The risk factor for common warts is exposure to HPV, which is pervasive. Preventive measures include frequent and regular hand washing and refraining from picking at or scratching existing warts. Prompt treatment to remove warts while they are small and restricted to a fairly contained area helps to limit their spread.


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