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Known as a hand deformity that usually develops gradually over a number of years, Dupuytren’s contracture affects the connective tissue under the skin of the palm. With this disease, knots of tissue will begin to form under the skin, eventually creating a thick cord that can pull one or more of the fingers into a bent position.
Once this happens, the fingers cannot be straightened completely, and this can interfere with every day activities, such as putting one’s hands in pockets, shaking hands, or even putting on gloves. The simplest tasks in life become complicated.
Dupuytren’s contracture typically affects the ring finger and the pinkie finger, and is usually seen in older men of Northern European descent. Although this disease does develop slowly over decades, it can progress much more quickly in just weeks or months. For some patients, it is a steady progression, and for others, it comes and goes.
Dupuytren’s contracture is usually noticed first by the thickening of the skin on the palm of the hand. As the disease advances, the skin on the palm may seem dimpled or puckered. A firm lump of tissue may develop on the palm and may be sensitive to touch, although not necessarily painful.
In the advanced stages of the disease, the cords of tissue forming under the skin on the palm may move up to the fingers. When the cords begin to tighten up, the fingers are then pulled down towards the palm, quite severely in many cases.
Although doctors are uncertain as to the exact causes of Dupuytren’s contracture, some have speculated that it could be associated with an autoimmune reaction, wherein a person’s immune system begins to attack its own body tissues. Dupuytren’s is most notably seen in conjunction with other conditions that cause contractures in other areas of the body, such as in the feet (Ledderhose disease) or in the penis (Peyronie’s disease).
Among the risk factors for Dupuytren’s include age and sex. It is most commonly seen in people over the age of 50 and more often seen in men than in women. It is also hereditary.