[Ainhum and "African acral keratoderma": three cases]

C Koudoukpo, E Bourrat, J Rausky, H Yédomon, M Bagot, C Blanchet-Bardon, A Petit
Annales de Dermatologie et de Vénéréologie 2015, 142 (3): 170-5

BACKGROUND: Ainhum, or spontaneous dactylitis, involves the formation of a gradual constriction in the digital-plantar fold of the fifth toe that leads, after several years, to autoamputation of the digit. This condition is classically distinguished from "true" ainhum, of unknown aetiology and affecting only subjects of African origin, from "pseudo-ainhum", resulting from different causes such as inflammatory constriction or constriction by a foreign body, and finally from ainhumoid palmoplantar keratoderma, which is of genetic origin and occurs for instance in Vohwinkel syndrome. Herein, we report three cases of ainhum in women of sub-Saharan African origin; in addition, all three subjects were also presenting various forms of hyperkeratosis of the hands and feet known to primarily affect subjects of African origin.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: The three patients, aged 30, 48 and 44 years, were respectively from Mali, Guinea and Senegal. They had consulted a dermatologist for violent pain in the fifth toe, which frequently prevented sleep and was inexplicable despite several consultations, and even in one case in spite of surgical investigation. Once the diagnosis had been made, relief was promptly provided for all three patients through Z-plasty to remove the circular constriction around the toe in question. In addition to ainhum, the first patient was also presenting diffuse palmoplantar keratoderma, together with an aspect of acrokeratoelastoidosis on the edges of her hands and feet, and knuckle pads, while the second was presenting diffuse palmoplantar keratoderma and an aspect of marginal acrokeratoelastoidosis, and the third was presenting small knuckle pads.

DISCUSSION: A recent study has confirmed the high incidence of several forms of palmoplantar keratoderma of African origin, as well as frequent association of these different varieties with one another. These consist of diffuse keratoderma having a relatively non-specific aspect, keratoderma punctata of the palmar creases, marginal keratoderma known also as focal acral hyperkeratosis, and acrokeratoelastoidosis, despite the absence of histological evidence, and finally, inverted keratoderma, i.e. affecting the dorsal aspects of the extremities, such as knuckle pads. In the three cases presented here, ainhum was associated with these different forms of acral keratoderma seen chiefly in subjects of African origin.

CONCLUSION: So-called "true" ainhum may be included in a broader group of African acral keratoderma, further reinforcing the unity of this group. Genetic studies are required to enable validation and refinement of these clinical findings.

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