8 Surprising Facts About Dupuytren's Contracture

  • dupuytren's contracture of ring finger of woman's palm
    The Disease of World Leaders, Actors—and Captain Hook
    Dupuytren’s contracture is a condition where your finger (or fingers) are bent back up toward your palm. In the most severe cases, your fingers are bent completely back into your hand, as if you were making a tight fist, and can’t be opened up. This bending, or contracture, is caused by Dupuytren disease—a chronic, genetic illness that affects at least 10 million Americans. You may never have heard of it, but you no doubt have heard of people who have had it. Here are interesting Dupuytren’s contracture facts, including its causes, treatment and history.

  • napoleon bonaparte statue in front of rouen city hall
    1. It’s named for Napoleon’s hemorrhoid doctor.
    So how did Dupuytren’s contracture get its name? And how do you pronounce it? The name comes from the doctor who first wrote about it in a medical journal article published in 1834: Baron Guillaume Dupuytren (pronounced DOOP-uh-tren). Baron Dupuytren was a famous French anatomist and surgeon who was described as the greatest surgeon of the 19th century. He was known for treating Napoleon Bonaparte for hemorrhoids. He also named at least 11 other medical things, from diseases to instruments. But it’s Dupuytren’s contracture that has lived on.

  • Former President Ronald Reagan in Oval Office
    2. Celebrities including Ronald Reagan had it.
    Former President Ronald Reagan had Dupuytren’s contracture in his ring finger and was operated on for this in 1989. He’s not the only world leader to have had it, either. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had surgery for Dupuytren’s contracture in 1980. Famous actors who have suffered from it include film star Bill Nighy (known for “Love, Actually,” among other films) and “NCIS” TV actor David McCallum. Classical pianist Misha Dichter had his Dupuytren’s contracture treated surgically in 2007, allowing him to return to performing. Peter Pan author James Barrie is suspected to have used his contracture experience in creating Captain Hook.

  • female doctor examining female patient's neck and shoulder
    3. It’s related to several other conditions including frozen shoulder.
    Three conditions are associated with Dupuytren disease: frozen shoulder, Peyronie’s disease (which affects the penis), and Ledderhose disease (which affects the bottom of the feet). Having Dupuytren’s raises your chance of getting these conditions. Similarly, having any of these conditions makes it more likely you will get Dupuytren disease. The diseases appear to similarly affect tissue called fascia, which lies just beneath your skin.

  • handsome male viking warrior
    4. The early Vikings helped spread it.
    At one time, Dupuytren’s was called the Viking Disease because of its prevalence in Northern European countries, such as Iceland, Norway and Sweden. For example, studies show that today in Norway, 30% of the population older than 60 has it; in Iceland, 7% of men between 45 and 49 have it, while it afflicts 40% of those 70 to 74. However, the disease also has been found in other continents and in mummified Egyptian remains that predate the Vikings. Today, Dupuytren’s contracture is considered to primarily but not exclusively afflict Caucasians.

  • male hands opening a jar
    5. The contracture causes problems with activities of daily living.
    Dupuytren disease typically develops in both hands, with the ring finger and pinky finger most affected. Moderate to severe contractures can make the activities of daily living difficult. Everyday tasks that typically involve the entire hand (or both hands)—opening jars, driving, washing your face (and other types of grooming), carrying objects, shaking hands, certain kinds of household maintenance—become challenging or even impossible.

  • happy senior male patient talking to female doctor in clinic
    6. Dupuytren’s contracture can be treated—but not cured.
    Dupuytren disease causes the fascia to become inflamed and diseased, resulting in a tightening cord that pulls the finger(s) closed. Dupuytren’s contracture treatment includes a surgery called fasciectomy. A hand surgeon makes an incision in the hand and removes all or part of a thin layer of skin in the palm called fascia. Besides surgery, doctors have two less invasive ways to release the tight cord: needle aponeurotomy (using a sharpened needle to probe and cut the area) and injections with an enzyme (brand name Xiaflex) that softens the fascia. None of these treatments are curative, so symptoms will eventually recur.

  • doctor holding laser physical therapy wand
    7. Light therapy may one day help relieve it.
    A 2019 study by German researchers used blue light radiation therapy to treat Dupuytren disease cells grown in the lab. They showed that light therapy had potential as a Dupuytren’s treatment, particularly in preventing relapse. However, it hasn’t been tried on any Dupuytren patients yet. The Dupuytren Research Group is working on a study examining the short-term effect of light therapy on early stage Dupuytren nodules, which are lumps that form on the skin before the Dupuytren’s contractures appear.

  • Couple shopping online
    8. Men develop Dupuytren’s at an earlier age than women.
    Men usually are first diagnosed with Dupuytren disease 10 years before women. Generally, this is around age 50 for men. At that age, more men than women have Dupuytren’s by a 10 to 1 ratio. But by 80 years of age, the number of men and women with the disease is about the same, probably due to women living longer than men. After age 80, women with the condition outnumber men.

8 Surprising Dupuytren's Contracture Facts: Causes & Treatment

About The Author

Lorna Collier has been reporting on health topics—especially mental health and women’s health—as well as technology and education for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News, CNN.com, the APA’s Monitor on Psychology, and many others. She’s a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
  1. Shine a light on Dupuytren? Dupuytren Foundation/Dupuytren Research Group blog. https://dupuytrens.org/shine-a-light-on-dupuytren/
  2. Krassovka J, Borgschulze A, Sahlender B, et al. Blue light irradiation and its beneficial effect on Dupuytren’s fibroblasts. PLoS ONE 2019;14(1):e0209833. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30633751
  3. Reagan to Undergo Surgery For Finger Ailment Saturday. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1989/01/04/us/reagan-to-undergo-surgery-for-finger-ailment-saturday.html
  4. Flatt AE. (2001). The Vikings and Baron Dupuytren's disease. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 14(4):378-84. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1305903/
  5. Dupuytren's contracture: the facts and figures. BMI Healthcare. https://www.bmihealthcare.co.uk/health-matters/health-and-wellbeing/dupuytrens#gdpr-out
  6. Dupuytren FAQ. Dupuytren Foundation. https://dupuytrens.org/faq/
  7. Dupuytren Disease and the Dupuytren Research Group. Dupuytrens Foundation. http://dupuytrens.org/homepage
  8. How common is Dupuytren disease? Dupuytren Foundation. https://dupuytrens.org/common-dupuytren-disease/

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Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 6
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