After your obstetrician conducts an APGAR test on your newborn—the quick assessment of whether the baby needs immediate medical attention—you’ll be likely to count all her fingers and toes. This traditional ritual is irresistible for most parents as they look for indicators that the new family member is “perfect.”
If your child is born with a hand abnormality, it’s understandably distressing. Even though a malformed hand usually doesn’t indicate a serious health issue, an obvious imperfection like fused fingers can be a real blow. What are the various congenital hand abnormalities and what can be done about them?
Children’s Hospital Boston, the primary pediatric teaching hospital associated with Harvard Medical School, is one of the largest hospitals for children in the United States. Characterizing its Hand and Upper Extremity Program as “one of the most experienced in the country for the evaluation and care of complex congenital differences…” the Children’s Hospital team treats a variety of abnormalities.
The most common hand abnormalities are, thankfully, usually easiest to treat. Polydactyly is a condition in which the patient has an extra finger (or toe). Children’s Hospital identifies polydactyly as the most common hand defect, occurring in about one in 1,000 births and it is often passed down through family generations.
Many children require just a one-day surgery to remove the extra digit. In cases where there’s additional involvement of bones, ligaments and tendons, more extensive surgery may be needed. Occasionally, a patient will need a second procedure later in life to improve the hand as he grows.
Another fairly common condition, occurring once in about 2,500 births, is syndactyly. This is what most people call “webbed fingers.” The condition occurs as the fetus’s hand, which starts out as a paddle shaped bud, fails to separate the fingers completely as they split from the bud during hand development. According to Children’s Hospital, fingers can be conjoined completely or partly, and may be simple (skin and tissue involvement) or complex (bone involvement).