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INFORMATION CENTERS:

Note: All links within content go to MayoClinic.com

Diseases and Conditions

Plantar warts

From MayoClinic.com
Special to CNN.com

Introduction

You don't have to play footsie with a frog to end up with warts on your feet. Toads can't be blamed for these embarrassing bumps, either.

Plantar warts are noncancerous skin growths on the soles of your feet caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which enters your body through tiny cuts and breaks in your skin. Plantar warts often develop beneath pressure points in your feet, such as the heels or balls of your feet.

Most plantar warts aren't a serious health concern, but they may be bothersome or painful, and they can be resistant to treatment. You may need to see your doctor to remove them.

Signs and symptoms

Plantar warts are often mistaken for corns or calluses. To make the distinction, look for:

  • Small, fleshy, grainy bumps on the soles of your feet
  • Hard, flat growths with a rough surface and well-defined boundaries
  • Gray or brown lumps with one or more black pinpoints, which are actually small, clotted blood vessels, not "wart seeds"
  • Bumps that interrupt the normal lines and ridges in the skin of your feet

Causes

You acquire warts through direct contact with the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 types of HPV. Some types of HPV tend to cause warts on your hands, fingers or near your fingernails. Others tend to cause warts on your feet.

The virus that causes plantar warts isn't highly contagious, but it thrives in warm, moist environments, such as shower floors, locker rooms and public swimming areas. So you may contract the virus by walking barefoot in public places.

Like other infectious diseases, HPV may also pass from person to person. If you have a plantar wart, you can even spread the virus to other places on your own foot by touching or scratching. The virus can also spread by contact with skin shed from a wart or blood from a wart.

Each person's immune system responds to warts differently, so not everyone who comes in contact with HPV develops warts. Even people in the same family react to the virus differently. That's why parents and kids don't necessarily spread warts by sharing the same shower.

Risk factors

These ugly bumps are more likely to appear on the feet of people with:

  • Multiple exposures to the virus
  • Damaged or cut skin
  • Weakened immune systems

For reasons doctors don't understand, some people are more susceptible to the wart-causing virus, just as some people are more likely to catch a cold. Children and teenagers tend to be especially vulnerable to warts.

When to seek medical advice

See your doctor if your warts are painful or change in appearance or color. Also see your doctor if warts persist, multiply or recur, despite home treatment, or if warts interfere with your activities. If you have diabetes or a circulatory disorder, don't try to treat any plantar warts at home. See your doctor for advice.

In some cases, you may need to consult your doctor to ensure a correct diagnosis. It's possible for more serious lesions to crop up on your feet, including cancerous tumors called carcinomas and melanomas. If you can't confidently identify your lump, have your doctor take a look.

Screening and diagnosis

In most cases, your doctor can diagnose plantar warts just by inspecting your feet. If there's any doubt, your doctor may need to pare down the lump with a scalpel. Why? Corns and calluses don't have a blood supply and won't bleed, while plantar warts will show signs of pinpoint bleeding from their dark dots, which are really blood vessels.


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