DEAR DRS. DONOHUE AND ROACH: I am 80 years old and in the past few years developed two or three warts on my fingers. I had them burned off by a doctor. He said they might come back, and they did. What causes this? A virus, maybe? What else can I do to get rid of them? I have tried over-the-counter medications, and nothing really works. Any ideas? — G.K.

ANSWER: Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus. They are indeed contagious, very common and can be difficult to get rid of. The customary first-line treatment is salicylic acid cream, found at your local drugstore or pharmacy. The treatment works much better if you remove the dead skin with a pumice stone or emery board. Although usually effective, it can take a very long time to work, and the warts may still come back.

Liquid nitrogen freezes the wart and causes a blister, and this method is effective, although mildly painful. It may need to be repeated up to three times. A newer treatment is imiquimod cream, a prescription medicine that causes the body’s own immune system to fight off the virus. This cream is, unfortunately, quite expensive. None of these treatments can get rid of the wart DNA, so the wart can always come back.

Often, the warts will go away on their own, but they can last for years. They can be contagious both to other people and to different parts of your own body.

DEAR DRS. DONOHUE AND ROACH: I am a lady who, at 88, had a minor stroke on the right side. I use a walker to get around, and am currently going to therapy three days a week.

Will I ever get back to normal? Before this happened, I was working as a store clerk at a Walmart. I am on a leave of absence until I am released from therapy. — E.R.

ANSWER: Symptoms of a stroke are sudden weakness, loss of vision, inability to speak or even overall confusion. It can be caused by a blockage of blood flow to part of the brain (thrombotic or embolic stroke), or by bleeding into the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). They are less common than they used to be. Strokes can largely, but not completely, be prevented by managing major risk factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Once a stroke occurs, the nerve cells die and do not regenerate, but the brain can learn new pathways to take over the function of the brain cells that are gone. Generally, brain recovery is active for about six months after a stroke, and though people still can improve beyond that, for most people that’s as good as they will get. That’s why it is so important to treat a stroke early, especially in those with the risk factors above. Early treatment, ideally within an hour, can prevent irreversible brain tissue loss. Think of these stroke symptoms the way you would about chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack, and call 911.

After the initial treatment, therapy (physical and/or occupational) can be remarkably helpful in recovering function, and I am happy that you are doing what you can now. Only time will tell how much more improvement you may see.

A stroke lasts for more than 24 hours. The time period that symptoms persist differentiates a stroke from a transient ischemic attack, TIA, in which symptoms last less than 24 hours. A “minor” stroke implies less area of the brain affected than in a “major” stroke, but both can improve with therapy.

DEAR DRS. DONOHUE AND ROACH: What do you recommend for the removal of tattoos? Radio ads once touted Wrecking Balm as a way to remove them, but that hasn’t been aired recently. I don’t have tattoos, but others who do should have a way out! — R.T.

ANSWER: I have never heard of Wrecking Balm, but I don’t think I could recommend something with that name. A recent poll showed that 21 percent of all American adults have at least one tattoo, and 14 percent of them regret getting one.

The standard for tattoo removal now is laser removal, done by modern Q-switched lasers. The results usually are very good, but no treatment is perfect, and often several treatments are necessary. This can be expensive, and usually is done by dermatologists. Insurance doesn’t pay for this.

Drs. Donohue and Roach regret that they are unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may write the doctors or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers also may order health newsletters from

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