Nail clubbing

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Nail clubbing
Other names: Clubbing, drumstick fingers, Hippocratic fingers,[1] digital clubbing, watch-glass nails,[2] acropachy[3]
Usual onsetOver weeks[1]
Risk factorsLung cancer, lung infections, COPD, interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cirrhosis, certain medications, genetics, unknown[1][4]
Diagnostic methodExamination[4]
TreatmentBased on the underlying cause[1]
Frequency1% of internal medicine patients[1]

Nail clubbing, also known as digital clubbing, is a rounded enlargement of the finger or toe nails.[1][3] Usually both sides are involved and there is a lack of pain.[3] Onset may occur over a two week period and if the underlying cause is corrected may resolve over a similar period of time.[1] When it occurs together with joint pain and swelling, and abnormal skin and bone growth it is known as hypertrophic osteoarthropathy.[5]

Clubbing is associated with lung cancer, lung infections, COPD, interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cirrhosis, and certain medications.[1][4] Clubbing may also run in families or occur without any identifiable cause.[1] The underlying mechanism involves thickening of primarily the early part of the nail bed.[6] Diagnosis is based on examination.[4]

Treatment is based on the underlying cause.[1] Rates of clubbing are unknown; it was present in about 1% of people admitted to an internal medicine unit of a hospital.[1] Clubbing has described since the time of Hippocrates.[1]

Signs and symptoms

Clubbing is present in one of five stages:[7]

  • No visible clubbing - Fluctuation (increased ballotability) and softening of the nail bed only. No visible changes of nails.
  • Mild clubbing - Loss of the normal <165° angle (Lovibond angle) between the nailbed and the fold (cuticula). Schamroth's window (see below) is obliterated. Clubbing is not obvious at a glance.
  • Moderate clubbing - Increased convexity of the nail fold. Clubbing is apparent at a glance.
  • Gross clubbing - Thickening of the whole distal (end part of the) finger (resembling a drumstick)
  • Hypertrophic osteoarthropathy - Shiny aspect and striation of the nail and skin


Clubbing is associated with

Nail clubbing is not specific to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Therefore, in people with COPD and significant degrees of clubbing, a search for signs of bronchogenic carcinoma (or other causes of clubbing) might still be indicated.[7]

A congenital form has also been recognized.[12]

Only one side may be involved in hemiplegia or vascular disorders.[4]

Hypertrophic pulmonary osteoarthropathy

Bone scan of a person with HPOA

A special form of clubbing is hypertrophic pulmonary osteoarthropathy (HPOA), known in continental Europe as Pierre Marie-Bamberger syndrome. This is the combination of clubbing and thickening of periosteum (connective tissue lining of the bones) and synovium (lining of joints), and is often initially diagnosed as arthritis. It is commonly associated with lung cancer.[citation needed]

Primary hypertrophic osteoarthropathy

Primary hypertrophic osteoarthropathy is HPOA without signs of pulmonary disease. This form has a hereditary component, although subtle cardiac abnormalities can occasionally be found. It is known eponymously as the Touraine–Solente–Golé syndrome. This condition has been linked to mutations in the gene on the fourth chromosome (4q33-q34) coding for the enzyme 15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrogenase (HPGD); this leads to decreased breakdown of prostaglandin E2 and elevated levels of this substance.[13]


The exact cause for sporadic clubbing is unknown. Theories as to its cause include:

  • Overproduction of prostaglandin E2 by other tissues.[13]
  • Increased entry of megakaryocytes into the systemic circulation. Under normal circumstances in healthy individuals, megakaryocytes that arise from the bone marrow are trapped in the pulmonary capillary bed and broken down before they enter the systemic circulation. It is thought that in disorders where there is right-to-left shunting or lung malignancy, the megakaryocytes can bypass the breakdown within the pulmonary circulation and enter the systemic circulation. They are then trapped within the capillary beds within the extremities, such as the digits, and release platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). PDGF and VEGF have growth promoting properties and cause connective tissue hypertrophy and capillary permeability.[14]


Clubbing of the fingernail: The red line shows the outline of a clubbed nail.

When clubbing is observed, pseudoclubbing should be excluded before making the diagnosis. Associated conditions may be identified by taking a detailed medical history—particular attention is paid to lung, heart, and gastrointestinal conditions—and conducting a thorough clinical examination, which may disclose associated features relevant to the underlying diagnosis. Additional studies such as a chest X-ray and a chest CT-scan may reveal otherwise asymptomatic cardiopulmonary disease.[7]

Schamroth's test or Schamroth's window test (originally demonstrated by South African cardiologist Leo Schamroth on himself)[15] is a popular test for clubbing. When the distal phalanges (bones nearest the fingertips) of corresponding fingers of opposite hands are directly opposed (place fingernails of same finger on opposite hands against each other, nail to nail), a small diamond-shaped "window" is normally apparent between the nailbeds. If this window is obliterated, the test is positive and clubbing is present.


The exact frequency of clubbing in the population is not known. A 2008 study found clubbing in 1%, or 15 patients, of 1511 patients admitted to a department of internal medicine in Belgium. Of these, 40%, or 6 patients, turned out to have significant underlying disease of various causes, while 60%, or 9 patients, had no medical problems on further investigations and remained well over the subsequent year.[16]


At least since the time of Hippocrates, clubbing has been recognized as a sign of disease.[1] The phenomenon has been called "Hippocratic fingers".[17]

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Burcovschii, S; Aboeed, A (January 2020). "Nail Clubbing". PMID 30969535. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. Rapini, Ronald P.; Bolognia, Jean L.; Jorizzo, Joseph L. (2007). Dermatology: 2-Volume Set. St. Louis: Mosby. ISBN 978-1-4160-2999-1.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 McPhee, SJ; Walker, HK; Hall, WD; Hurst, JW (1990). "Clubbing". PMID 21250207. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Tully, AS; Trayes, KP; Studdiford, JS (15 April 2012). "Evaluation of nail abnormalities". American family physician. 85 (8): 779–87. PMID 22534387.
  5. Krugh, M; Vaidya, PN (January 2019). "Osteoarthropathy Hypertrophic". PMID 31082012. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. Tosti, Antonella (2020). "413. Diseases of hair and nails". In Goldman, Lee; Schafer, Andrew I. (eds.). Goldman-Cecil Medicine. Vol. 2 (26th ed.). Philadelphia: Elsevier. p. 2660. ISBN 978-0-323-53266-2. Archived from the original on 2023-06-30. Retrieved 2023-05-31.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Myers KA, Farquhar DR (2001). "The rational clinical examination: does this patient have clubbing?". JAMA. 286 (3): 341–7. doi:10.1001/jama.286.3.341. PMID 11466101.
  8. Sridhar KS, Lobo CF, Altman RD (1998). "Digital clubbing and lung cancer". Chest. 114 (6): 1535–37. doi:10.1378/chest.114.6.1535. PMID 9872183. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2003-11-01.
  9. Epstein O, Dick R, Sherlock S (1981). "Prospective study of periostitis and finger clubbing in primary biliary cirrhosis and other forms of chronic liver disease". Gut. 22 (3): 203–6. doi:10.1136/gut.22.3.203. PMC 1419499. PMID 7227854.
  10. Naeije R (March 2003). "Hepatopulmonary syndrome and portopulmonary hypertension". Swiss Med Wkly. 133 (11–12): 163–9. PMID 12715285.
  11. "acropachy". GPnotebook.
  12. Shah K, Ferrara TM, Jan A, Umair M, Irfanullah, Khan S, Ahmad W, Spritz RA (August 2017). "Homozygous SLCO2A1 translation initiation codon mutation in a Pakistani family with recessive isolated congenital nail clubbing". Br. J. Dermatol. 177 (2): 546–548. doi:10.1111/bjd.15094. PMID 27681482.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Uppal S, Diggle CP, Carr IM, et al. (June 2008). "Mutations in 15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrogenase cause primary hypertrophic osteoarthropathy". Nat. Genet. 40 (6): 789–93. doi:10.1038/ng.153. PMID 18500342.
  14. Dickinson, CJ; Martin, JF (19 December 1987). "Megakaryocytes and platelet clumps as the cause of finger clubbing". Lancet. 2 (8573): 1434–5. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(87)91132-9. PMID 2891996.
  15. Schamroth L (February 1976). "Personal experience". S. Afr. Med. J. 50 (9): 297–300. PMID 1265563.
  16. Vandemergel X, Renneboog B (July 2008). "Prevalence, aetiologies and significance of clubbing in a department of general internal medicine". Eur. J. Intern. Med. 19 (5): 325–9. doi:10.1016/j.ejim.2007.05.015. PMID 18549933.
  17. Campbell, David (26 January 1924). "The Hippocratic Fingers". British Medical Journal. 1 (3291): 145–144. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.3291.145. ISSN 0007-1447. Archived from the original on 26 March 2020. Retrieved 9 April 2021.

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