What can fingers tell you about stomachs?
August 15, 2006 1:12 PM   Subscribe

What relevance could my son's fingers and thumbs - and his mum's fingers and thumbs - have to diagnosing a stomach disorder?

Just curious. My son (eight) has had a few weeks of mild not-quite diarrhea. Doctor thinks it is probably nothing, but referred him to a consultant at the hospital just to be on the safe side. Consultant did the obvious things - took blood, weighed him, prodded and poked his stomach.

But she did one thing which puzzles us, and which my wife meant to ask about but forgot in the subsequent excitement of getting his blood taken: the consultant looked at my son's finger and thumbs, and then his mother's fingers and thumbs.

I'm guessing that there may be a finger shape/nail appearance that can be a sign of some stomach/bowel condition, and that it can also be hereditary. But I have no idea what - can anyone shed any light?
posted by reynir to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sometimes nutrient deficiencies can show up in the nails--maybe she was trying to see if the food passing through his gut so quickly had interfered with full nutrient absorption.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:16 PM on August 15, 2006

Or maybe she was looking for signs of an environmental cause, e.g. arsenic poisoning - mom and son drink from the same water supply, etc.
posted by Pigpen at 1:19 PM on August 15, 2006

Discoloration or abnormal texture of the fingernails can be a side-effect of certain conditions. If it's diet-related (whether by contamination or poor nutritrion), it may affect several people under the same household -- thus it is prudent to check all immediate family members for these symptoms.
posted by randomstriker at 1:29 PM on August 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, the nutrition related suggestion is something that we wondered about. My wife's just mentioned though that apparently the consultant also asked them both to put their thumbs together, and then looked at the shape it made.
posted by reynir at 1:32 PM on August 15, 2006

I believe hand shape can be indicative of some genetic disorders. Perhaps there is one that affects the gastrointestinal tract?
posted by penchant at 1:34 PM on August 15, 2006

Seconding what needs more cowbell said.
posted by Effigy2000 at 1:47 PM on August 15, 2006

When I first meet with doctors, they often look at my palms and then proclaim that I'm anemic. I'm not, but I gather this is a common method.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:34 PM on August 15, 2006

Quick question, because I've had recent experience with this...up to 10-12 or so weeks ago, did he take in any antibiotics? If so, they may have altered his intestinal flora and allowed Clostridium difficile to populate, causing Pseudomembranous Colitis. A simple stool sample test can diagnose this. Leaving it untreated can have really bad effects on some people. It's worth a thought.

In any case, if they haven't done a stool sample test for common causes, they probably should have.
posted by Kickstart70 at 2:42 PM on August 15, 2006

Best answer: Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis can both cause clubbing of the fingers (it looks like this). From the emedicine link above:

* When the profile of the distal digit is viewed, the angle made by the proximal nail fold and nail plate (Lovibond angle) typically is less than or equal to 160°. In clubbing, the angle flattens out and increases as the severity of the clubbing increases. If the angle is greater than 180°, definitive clubbing exists. An angle between 160-180° falls in a gray area and may indicate early stages of clubbing or a pseudoclubbing phenomenon.

* Individuals without clubbing display a diamond-shaped window at the base of the nail beds when the dorsum of 2 fingers from the opposite hands are opposed. The distal angle between the 2 opposed nails should be minimal. In individuals with digital clubbing, the diamond window is obliterated and the distal angle between the nails increases with increasing severity of clubbing.

* The nail moves more freely in patients with clubbing; therefore, the examiner may note a spongy sensation as the nail is pressed toward the nail plate. The sponginess results from increased fibrovascular tissue between the nail and the phalanx. The skin at the base of the nail may be smooth and shiny.

I bet that's what he was looking for. I'm not a doctor, so I might be totally off.
posted by feathermeat at 3:23 PM on August 15, 2006

Best answer: My wife's just mentioned though that apparently the consultant also asked them both to put their thumbs together, and then looked at the shape it made.

Definitely, definitely the clubbing thing that feathermeat linked to. (This was one of the battery of tests my girlfriend used to practise on me when she was a student doctor.)
posted by chrismear at 3:53 AM on August 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks all, that's very helpful.
posted by reynir at 4:30 AM on August 16, 2006

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