The common hand condition crippling Australians – and it’s not arthritis

Mar 29, 2021
Dupuytren’s disease is a condition that affects the hands. Source: Getty.

Think about all the things you use your hands for … driving, eating, using the phone, getting ready in the morning, or even just sipping a glass water. For the estimated one in five Australians aged over 60 years old living with Dupuytren’s disease – a condition affecting the hands – these everyday tasks can prove very difficult.

Dupuytren’s (also known as Viking disease, Celtic hand, or palmar fibromatosis) involves the thickening of tissue in the palm and fingers and can result in nodules or cord-like structures developing, causing the skin and finger joints to become tight and stiff. Over time, the tension of the cords in the hand gradually increases and can pull one or more fingers toward the palm, forcing the finger into a bent position, known as Dupuytren’s contracture.

Grandmother-of-two and professional photographer, Carole, 60, was first diagnosed with Dupuytren’s disease by a hand specialist two years ago, after noticing a lump on her palm.

“I was brought up to think ‘lumps aren’t good’, so I took myself to my GP who sent me for an ultrasound and referred me to a hand specialist. Upon being diagnosed with Dupuytren’s, I was informed there was no treatment option at this early stage, and I would have to wait for it to progress.”

Carole had never heard of Dupuytren’s prior to her diagnosis and wasn’t aware of anyone in her life having it. Although the condition is not usually painful, contractures can severely limit the use of the hand and fingers, and for an estimated 80 per cent of individuals living with Dupuytren’s who are affected in both hands, this can prove particularly debilitating.

Unfortunately, Carole’s condition gradually progressed from one lump to five over the following two years, and was accompanied by excruciating pain, numbness and tingling.

“While many people with Dupuytren’s don’t experience pain, for me, the nodules can be very painful, which can impact my ability to perform everyday activities,” she said.

“I was concerned about the pain in my hands persisting and the Dupuytren’s progressing into a full contracture. Using my hands is critical to my work as a photographer and if the disease progresses, it could jeopardise my career.”

Carole, 60, has been living with Dupuytren’s for over two years. Source: Supplied.

While there’s no known cure for Dupuytren’s, there are several treatment options available to manage the condition to improve or regain hand function, while limiting further progression of contractures.

Localised therapies may be offered to straighten fingers in order to improve function, such as surgery to remove the thickened tissue and needle aponeurotomy (during which a surgeon will use a needle to break up the tissue that is causing the finger to bend). While it’s not available in Australia, some countries also offer injections that break down the scar tissue.

For people like Carole who are living with early stage Dupuytren’s disease, access to non-invasive treatment options are critical to manage the condition.

Patients with benign conditions are often left behind, despite living with potentially debilitating conditions such as Dupuytren’s disease. GenesisCare is currently investigating the use of low-dose radiation therapy as a non-invasive treatment option for the disease, both as a preventative measure in its early stages, as well as alongside surgical options for more advanced contractures.

If you are living with Dupuytren’s disease, speak to your healthcare professional about the available treatment options that may be best suited to you.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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