Introduction 

Warts are small lumps that often develop on the skin of the hands and feet.

Warts vary in appearance and may develop singly or in clusters. Some are more likely to affect particular areas of the body. For example, verrucas are warts that usually develop on the soles of the feet.

Warts are non-cancerous, but can resemble certain cancers.

Most people will have warts at some point in their life. They tend to affect children and teenagers more than adults.

Read more about the symptoms of warts.

What causes warts?

Warts are caused by an infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV).

The virus causes an excess amount of keratin, a hard protein, to develop in the top skin layer (epidermis). The extra keratin produces the rough, hard texture of a wart.

Read more about the causes of warts.

Are warts contagious?

Warts aren't considered very contagious, but they can be caught by close skin-to-skin contact. The infection can also be transmitted indirectly from contaminated objects or surfaces, such as the area surrounding a swimming pool.

You are more likely to get infected if your skin is wet or damaged. After you become infected, it can take weeks or even months for a wart or verruca to appear.

When to see your GP

Most types of warts are easy to identify because they have a distinctive appearance. You should always see your GP if you have a growth on your skin you are unable to identify or are worried about.

Your GP will be able to tell if it's a wart simply by looking at it. Where it is on your body and how it affects surrounding skin will also be taken into consideration.

You should visit your GP if you have a wart that:

  • bleeds
  • changes in appearance
  • spreads
  • causes you significant pain, distress or embarrassment

Treating warts

Most warts are harmless and clear up without treatment.

The length of time it takes a wart to disappear will vary from person to person. It may take up to two years for the viral infection to leave your system and for the wart to disappear.

You might decide to treat your wart if it is painful, or in an area that is causing discomfort or embarrassment.

Common methods of treatment include:

  • salicylic acid
  • cryotherapy (freezing the skin cells)
  • duct tape
  • chemical treatments

Treatment for warts is not always completely effective, and a wart will sometimes return following treatment.

Surgery is not usually recommended for warts.

Read more about how warts are treated.

Warts are small non-cancerous lumps that often appear on the hands and feet 

Genital warts

Genital warts are small, fleshy growths that develop around the genital or anal area.

In England, genital warts are the most common viral sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Like other types of warts, genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). They can be spread during sex.

Read more about genital warts.

Page last reviewed: 11/09/2014

Next review due: 11/09/2016