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Dupuytren's contracture

Alternative Names
Dupuytren's disease, palmar fasciitis, Palmar fibromatosis, Viking disease

Dupuytren's contracture is a thickening and tightening of the fibrous tissue beneath the skin on the palm of the hand. The contracture causes bending of the fourth and, frequently, the fifth fingers.

What is going on in the body?
Underlying the skin of the palm and fingers are strips of fibrous tissue, which are usually soft and pliable. In some people, this tissue becomes thickened and contracted, causing tight cords or nodules under the skin. The result is progressive bending of the finger, which cannot be straightened. The process starts usually at the crease on the palm of the hand, and progresses to involve the joint at the base of the finger, then the next joint of the same finger. The ring finger is most often affected, but the fifth finger is frequently involved. The condition may appear suddenly, but usually it is a slow, progressive process.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
Firm nodules or cords may be noticed beneath the skin of the palm or fingers. This is followed by progressive bending of the fingers. This condition is not painful, except in the beginning when there may be sensitivity to pressure.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
Dupuytren's contracture is common. The cause is unknown, but the condition has a genetic predisposition. It occurs most commonly in men over 45 years of age. The incidence is higher among people who are alcoholics, and people with diabetes, epilepsy, and pulmonary disease such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis. Recurrence after treatment is common.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
Maintaining control of diabetes, pulmonary disease, and epilepsy, and avoiding excessive alcohol may help to prevent the disease.

How is the condition diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on examination of the hand.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Progressive bending of the fingers may occur, to the point that the fingertips touch the palm of the hand.

What are the risks to others?
There are no risks to others, aside from passing on the genes to offspring.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment involves observation at first when the process is in the early stages. Injection of a corticosteroid medication into the nodule may help the tenderness and delay the progression of the disease. Surgery to divide the cords and remove scar tissue allows the fingers to straighten. Surgery is usually recommended when the contracture is significant or when the hand cannot be placed flat on a table.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
During surgery, the small nerves and blood vessels to the fingers are at risk of injury. Bleeding under the skin may occur. Infection is possible after any operation.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
After surgery, hand therapy is very important to maintain the range of motion of the fingers, regain and preserve strength, and minimise swelling.

How is the condition monitored?
The disease is monitored by observing for increased bending of the fingers, which indicates progression of the disease. Recurrence is common.

Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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