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The Mystery of the Purple Finger: What Could Have Caused It?

By HERWriter
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purple finger mystery: what caused it? Dmitry Shabanov/PhotoSpin

I looked at my middle finger and was surprised to see the intensity of the purple color of my skin. I tried to think, what could have caused this purple episode to occur in a single finger? Was it serious?

The previous night I had a sudden pain, like an insect had stung me, on the back of my middle finger. I could not see any bite but went ahead and iced it a couple times before bed.

The next day I forgot about my finger, until I noticed it while washing my hands. The skin of my middle finger was incredibly purple like it was bruised or had been dipped in grape jelly.

The odd thing was, only the backside of my middle finger from one knuckle down from the tip to the base was purple. The inside skin of the finger looked normal. The finger did not appear swollen and barely was painful when I squeezed it. I did not have any other symptoms of feeling poorly.

Like many of you would do in this situation, I searched the web. Interestingly, I found numerous forum postings from people who described similar situations that had happened to them. Like me, some of them also had their middle finger affected.

After much hunting, I found a few medical articles that described what it could be and found a photo of someone else’s hand that looked surprisingly like mine. (1)

The diagnosis was a paroxysmal finger hematoma or Achenbach syndrome. Even though it is supposed to be uncommon, based on the numbers of people who posted about similar episodes, it may happen more often than the medical community thinks.

Achenbach syndrome is a benign self-limiting condition of sudden unexplained bruising of the hand or fingers. It is more common in women then men and the middle and index fingers are most affected.

Typically the palm side of the finger shows the bruising after a sudden episode of pain or itching, and there maybe swelling and coldness of the area. The fingertip is usually not involved. The bruising resolves in a few days, which mine did.

While I was able to determine what my purple finger was probably caused by, there are several more serious problems that can cause purple fingers or toes.

Add a Comment20 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

My middle finger on my right hand will swell up and turn purple. The purple color is usually around the nail and on the palm side of my finger. It isn't usually sore but my thumb on my right hand does the same. It has the stinging pain and itching, and turns purple around the nail, and on the palm side of my thumb. It is really sore and will often stay swollen and purple for weeks. It turns black on the palm side for an hour or a day. I have rheumatoid arthritis in my hands; I wonder if it's associated with that? My hands are always cold too.

April 20, 2016 - 11:43am
HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hi Anon

Thanks for your comments! 

I do think this is something you should address with your doctor since it happens a lot and lasts for weeks.  It could be nothing but since there has been some connection between the "purple finger" and heart health, you should put a call in.



April 20, 2016 - 1:25pm
EmpowHER Guest

I have been suffering with black/purple fingers for some years, always on the palm side of my hands, starts with a sharp stinging pain then discolours, sometimes swells and is quite painful and although the discolouration goes can continue to be painful for some time, can cause it just by opening a door or carrying something it seems. Don't really know what causes it to happen and neither did my GP.

February 2, 2016 - 6:28am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Same here! Nice to know I'm not alone. Thanks for posting.

April 4, 2016 - 1:49pm
EmpowHER Guest

I don't no what is wrong with my finger. My little finger is swollen and purple right under my nail. I didn't slam it or anything. I don't no if I got bitten by something. Does anyone know what is wrong???please help me out.

October 16, 2015 - 12:48pm
EmpowHER Guest

This same exact thing has been happening to me on and off for at least 15 years. (Thought I was bit by spider the first time because of the stinging/itching of the area.) A purple bruise always appears afterward and lasts several hours. Usually no larger than a dime in circumference. These bruises occur on my hands and feet, most commonly on fingers/toes. I've mentioned to doctors during routine checkups, none of them think it's anything serious. Glad to know I'm not a lunatic, because that's how I feel when I try explaining to drs what's going on!

September 15, 2015 - 10:44am
HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hi Anon

Me too, I have it in both thumbs and it's usually triggered by me bumping my thumb on something, even just a gentle tap.  Within a few minutes it's swollen and dark purple/black.  

Either thumb turns purple/black for several days, they look extremely strange. The sides of my thumbs go black too, heading to my hand.  I look like I have gangrene for about four days and then back to normal again. 


September 15, 2015 - 3:31pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Susan Cody)

I have same problem my ring finger is all purple I work in a factory with syringes all take I check 2000 a day and I use that hand with the purple finger I'm wondering if it's from using that finger 8 hours a day hope it goes away

May 6, 2016 - 6:01pm
HERWriter (reply to Susan Cody)


My third source link shows what it looks like when it occurs to the thumb.  Go here and scroll down.



September 15, 2015 - 7:38pm
HERWriter Guide (reply to Michele Blacksberg RN)

Hi Shelly,

I saw the image, yes that's my swollen thumb but mine is a lot darker and goes all the way down to the bottom of my thumb.  Maybe I should mention this to my doctor next time regarding the potential vascular issue. But mine is triggered by an accidental tap to the thumb. And the reaction is immediate, almost like a bee sting, with sudden swelling and a darkened thumb. 

I was googling this thumb thing a few months ago and found your article which explained everything, I meant to mention that you to before - thank you! 


September 16, 2015 - 5:51am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.