Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(6):1243-1244

How do I know my spot is a wart?

Warts are hard bumps on your skin. They can be as small as a pinhead or as large as a penny. You may have just one wart or many. Warts can develop anywhere on your skin, but they usually appear on the hands or feet.

Warts don't usually hurt or bleed unless they are injured. Warts on the bottom of the feet are called plantar warts. These can be painful to walk on. Warts on the penis or around the vagina or anus are called genital warts.

What causes warts?

Warts are caused by an infection called human papillomavirus (say: “pap-uh-lo-muh-vi-russ”). This virus makes a place on the skin thicken into a wart or many warts.

Are genital warts different?

The same virus causes genital warts. They are treated differently, though, because they are on very sensitive skin. Genital warts can lead to certain kinds of cancer. If you have warts on your genitals, see your doctor for treatment.

Are warts contagious?

Yes. Warts can spread from one place on your body to another place if you touch them or scratch them. You can spread your warts to other people if you share towels, razors, or nail clippers. You can spread genital warts through sexual contact. You can catch plantar warts from walking barefoot in public areas where other people also walk barefoot, such as swimming pools or locker rooms.

What can I do to treat my warts?

Sometimes warts go away on their own after a few months. If you don't want to wait or if your warts don't go away, you can treat them with a mild acid solution or patch that you can buy in drugstores without a prescription.

This medicine works best if you soak the wart in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes before you put on the acid. Cover the wart with a bandage or waterproof tape to help keep the medicine from rubbing off.

Keep putting on the medicine every one or two days, following the package instructions, until the wart is gone. It can take many weeks to get rid of a wart. If dead skin builds up around the wart, it might help to trim it away or rub it down gently with a pumice stone. Be careful not to get the acid on the normal skin around your wart.

When should I see my doctor about my warts?

If you are not sure that your spot is a wart, ask your doctor. If you have a wart on your face or genitals, see your doctor instead of trying to treat it yourself. If your warts are painful or if they do not go away after eight weeks of home treatment, see your doctor.

Your doctor can use stronger acids on your wart. He or she might choose to freeze, burn, or cut off the wart. Your doctor might use a laser or give you a shot to get rid of your wart. Sometimes doctors prescribe a medicated cream or pills to treat difficult warts.

Where can I find out more about warts?

  • Ask your doctor.

  • KidsHealth

    Web address:

  • American Social Health Association

    P.O. Box 13827

    Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

    Telephone: 1-919-361-8400

    Web address:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    National STD and AIDS Hotline

    Telephone: 1-800-227-8922

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