The Viking’s Paw

The palm of the author's left hand. Three nodules have been outlined.

Nothing to do with stroke or vision loss, but I have another interesting disease, I’ve discovered. In the photograph above of my left hand I’ve outlined three small hard nodules beneath the skin. They are not very easy to see in the photograph but I notice them a lot when I wash my hands, or sometimes when I grasp objects. Each is about the size of a pea.

I though they must be the first signs of Dupuytren’s contracture (something like ‘Dew-pwee-trenz’) and my doctor confirmed this for me today.

The condition is caused by thickening of connective tissue in the palm. If it progresses far enough it will cause my fingers to become permanently bent. You can see that the middle and ring fingers are the ones affected. It’s not life-threatening but it would make it hard for me to grasp things and it would interfere with typing. I was thinking of taking up the mandolin again and of course it would be disastrous for that.

It is named for Baron Dupuytren, a very notable surgeon and physician near the beginning of the 19 century. (It seems he had the honour of treating Napoleon for piles.) Dupuytren was not the first person to note the disease but he seems to have devised an operation to relieve it, and he gave a lecture which was translated from French into English and published in the Lancet.

And where do Vikings come into it? Well there is a gene the predisposes people to Dupuytren’s and the disease is commonest in northern Europe, with its highest prevalence in Iceland. So this has led people to suggest the gene is of Scandinavian origins and was spread by the Vikings. This suggests I have Viking ancestry somewhere!

What’s my prognosis? Well it may progress slowly, it at all, and I might escape significant contracture. Even if my fingers do start to bend seriously there are a range of surgical and non-surgical treatments. So I’m intrigued rather than worried by this disease.


About partialinsight

One evening I had a stroke. Half my sight vanished overnight. Adapting made me grasp how amazing the visual system and brain are. It also taught me to understand disability completely differently and I'm grateful for the lesson.
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4 Responses to The Viking’s Paw

  1. Stephanie says:

    Hi again Richard 😉 my grandmother had it, on both hands. She was from Normandy originally, so there might be some viking origin there as well ahahahaa. She had surgery on one hand and it really helped her. The other hand never needed surgery as it never got too bad. Hopefully, it will be the same for you.
    I don’t know if you were joking about the mandolin, but doing something that trains your fingers’ motricity might not be such a bad idea? did you get medical advice on that? because training ahead might minimise the possible effects of the evolution of this condition?

  2. hi Stephanie

    That’s interesting about your grandmother. So far I only have signs in one hand and hopefully the other will remain unaffected.

    The mandolin was a sort of joke but also true. I used to play a lot (not very well) but recently I’ve neglected the instrument. Quite unconnected with the Dupuytren’s I was considering getting back into playing. Maybe I’d better get on with it!


  3. Stephanie says:

    You could ask your consultant but I would think that any activity which exercises your fingers mobility would be beneficial, like playing an instrument, but also cooking, craft making…..anything you enjoy really. I think my grandmother’s problems starting only on one hand in her 70s and it took a few years before the other one was affected as well, and I think but can’t be 100% sure that the one that got the surgery was the one that had be affected the most recently. It was probably her right hand which was more of a problem for her.

    • I don’t have a consultant yet for the Dupuytren’s, that would come later if contracture began to show. But I think l’ll try to get my mandolin back in working order again.

      I read that men tend to get Dupuytren’s earlier but then women gradually catch up, so the prevalence is about equal by the mid eighties.

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