Finger Clubbing

Was this helpful?
(21)

What is finger clubbing?

Finger clubbing is a thickening of the fingertips that gives them an abnormal rounded appearance. The exact cause of finger clubbing is not known, but it is a common symptom of respiratory disease, congenital heart disease, and gastrointestinal disorders.

Respiratory diseases associated with finger clubbing include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, cystic fibrosis (thick mucus in the throat and digestive tract), and bronchiectasis (destruction of the large airways). Congenital heart diseases (heart diseases present since birth) that lead to finger clubbing are typically cyanotic, meaning that they cause a person to appear blue due to reduced oxygen in the blood. Clubbing has been seen in pregnancy and acromegal (gigantism due to pituitary tumor).

Gastrointestinal disorders that can lead to clubbing of the fingers include celiac disease, Crohn's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and liver disease, especially in severe cases, such as cirrhosis of the liver. Other diseases associated with finger clubbing include Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Graves’ disease (thyroid condition). Clubbing may be accompanied by cyanosis (blue coloration of the skin) and shortness of breath.

Finger clubbing can be associated with symptoms of a serious or life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as severe difficulty breathing, severe chest pain, bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails, change in level of consciousness or alertness, and rapid heart rate.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for finger clubbing but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.

What other symptoms might occur with finger clubbing?

Finger clubbing may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition and may also involve the respiratory, cardiovascular or gastrointestinal systems.

Respiratory system symptoms that may occur along with finger clubbing

Finger clubbing may accompany other symptoms that affect the respiratory system including:

  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Coughing up clear, yellow, light brown, or green mucus
  • Cough that gets more severe over time
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loose, wet cough that produces thick white or yellow phlegm
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea) or shortness of breath
  • Wheezing (whistling sound made with breathing)

Cardiovascular system symptoms that may occur along with finger clubbing

Finger clubbing may accompany symptoms related to the cardiovascular system including:

  • Bluish lips, nails or skin (cyanosis)
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Irregular heart rate (arrhythmia
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Squatting posture in young children

Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur along with finger clubbing

Finger clubbing may accompany symptoms that are related to the gastrointestinal system including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, finger clubbing can be a symptom of a life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)

  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, or choking

What causes finger clubbing?

The exact cause of finger clubbing is not known, but it is a common symptom of respiratory disease, congenital heart disease, and gastrointestinal disorders.

Respiratory disease causes of finger clubbing

Finger clubbing may be caused by respiratory diseases including:

  • Bronchiectasis (destruction and widening of the large airways)

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema and chronic bronchitis

  • Cystic fibrosis (thick mucus in the lungs and respiratory tract)

  • Lung abscess

  • Lung cancer

  • Pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs)

Congenital cardiac disease causes of finger clubbing

Finger clubbing can also be caused by congenital cardiac diseases including:

  • Tetralogy of Fallot (combination of four structural defects)

  • Total anomalous pulmonary venous return (TAPVR; rare condition in which the pulmonary veins do not empty into the heart)

  • Transposition of the great vessels (rare condition in which the major vessels entering or leaving the heart are misconnected

Gastrointestinal disease causes of finger clubbing

Finger clubbing can also be caused by gastrointestinal diseases including:

Other causes of finger clubbing

Finger clubbing can also have other causes including:

  • Acromegaly (gigantism caused by a pituitary tumor)

  • Atrial myxoma (tumor arising within heart)

  • Dysentery (infectious inflammation of the colon, causing severe diarrhea)

  • Endocarditis (inflammation of heart tissue, often infectious)

  • Graves’ disease (type of hyperthyroidism resulting in excessive thyroid hormone production)

  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymph tissues)

  • Pregnancy

Questions for diagnosing the cause of finger clubbing

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your finger clubbing including:

  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Do you have difficulty breathing?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • When did you first notice finger clubbing?

What are the potential complications of finger clubbing?

Because finger clubbing can be due to serious diseases that cause cyanosis, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Heart failure
  • Long-term physical disability
  • Organ failure or dysfunction
  • Respiratory failure
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection
Was this helpful?
(21)
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 8
  1. Nail abnormalities. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003247.htm.
  2. Clubbing of the fingers or toes. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003282.htm.
  3. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
Explore Symptoms and Conditions
Recommended Reading
Connect to a telehealth provider now.
Health Spotlight
Next Up
Answers to Your Health Questions
Trending Videos