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What is Dactylitis?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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Sometimes referred to as sausage digit, dactylitis is a condition in which the fingers or toes become inflamed. Swelling is often present along with the inflammation. The nickname for the condition comes from the fact that the affected fingers and toes take on an appearance that is somewhat similar to plump sausages.

In most cases, the appearance of some type of dactylitis comes about as a sign of some other developing health issue. The disease commonly signals the onset of psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, both conditions that cause extreme pain and negatively impact the proper range of motion of the hands and feet. Some forms of dactylitis also serve as precursors to the presence of sickle cell anemia.

The outward symptoms of dactylitis can appear very quickly. Along with swelling and inflammation in the hands and feet, there is also the potential for fever and extreme tenderness on and near the toes and fingers that are affected. In severe cases, individuals will be unable to walk on the swollen feet, even with the use of thickly padded footwear.

There are a number of different manifestations of this condition. One of the more common types can strike infants as young as six months. Known as sickle cell dactylitis, the inflammation is often one of the first signs of sickle cell anemia. Because of the swelling and inflammation, the condition is sometimes mistaken for some other health issue, such as rheumatic fever or cellulitis.

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Blistering distal dactylitis develops when the fleshy pad of the distal portion of the finger becomes inflamed. As with the sickle cell variety, blistering dactylitis usually manifests in children, occurring anywhere from the age of six months to up to four years. Because the inflammation develops in the fat pad of the finger, it can make movement difficult as well as painful.

Tuberculous dactylitis is a form of the disease that is not focused on the flesh of the finger or toes. Instead, this type affects the bone structure of the feet and hands. The inflammation can be extremely painful, as the discomfort is felt deep in the short tubular bones rather than seeming to emanate from the flesh.

Treatments for dactylitis tend to focus more on managing the symptoms than employing any type of surgery. Medication to help with fever and ease some of the puffiness in the hands or feet is very common. Once the underlying health issue that led to the swelling and inflammation is diagnosed, directly treating that condition will often result in the disappearance of the swelling, as well as ease the pain.

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