What is Hand-Foot Syndrome?

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  • Written By: Pamela Pleasant
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2019
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Hand-foot syndrome sometimes occurs after a patient has had some types of chemotherapy. Some of these types of chemotherapy include doxorubicin, cytarabine, and fluorouracil. In some cases, the therapy causes changes in the temperature and cellular development of the hands and feet. Chemotherapy can increase the dividing of the top layer of skin cells. Hand-foot syndrome is a painful condition and the symptoms can make it easy to identify.

The symptoms of hand-foot syndrome usually develop within the first three weeks of receiving chemotherapy. At first, the patient may feel numbness in the feet or hands. This usually affects the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet. After a period of time, the hands can begin to feel warm and swelling and pain are then seen. As hand-foot syndrome progresses, blisters can start to form and the skin becomes hardened.

Sickle cell anemia is a molecular disease that affects blood cells. It is a genetic condition that can change cellular structure. These changes can cause a host of medical problems, including hand-foot syndrome, though the symptoms can be different than those suffered by a patient who has undergone chemotherapy. Hand-foot syndrome caused by sickle cell disease causes the backs of the hands and feet to become swollen and reddened. This can produce severe pain in the fingers and toes, along with a fever.


Certain precautions can be taken to avoid the painful symptoms of hand-foot syndrome. Following a chemo procedure, a patient should refrain from prolonged exposure to hot water. Plastic gloves used for cleaning should not be worn because they can increase the temperature of the hands. Any hand-held tools such as kitchen utensils or gardening tools should be avoided because they can cause friction on the skin. Exercising or any sweat-producing activity should also be kept to a minimum.

The treatments for hand-foot syndrome include keeping the body temperature down. Ice packs can be used to reduce any swelling in the hands or feet. Topical lotions and ointments can also be used to keep moisture in the skin and also help to reduce discomfort and pain. Drugs are sometimes prescribed for patients who suffer from hand-foot syndrome, which can significantly reduce any pain. Certain vitamins can also help to speed up the healing process because they benefit the skin.


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