Dactylitis (Sausage Fingers)

Arthritis and other autoimmune diseases are the most common causes of dactylitis. You can usually manage your symptoms with at-home treatments. Infections that cause dactylitis need to be treated immediately before they can spread. See a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing dactylitis. It’s important to get the swelling diagnosed right away.


What is dactylitis?

Dactylitis is the medical term for severe swelling that affects your fingers or toes (your digits). It’s sometimes called “sausage fingers” because of the round, puffed up shape it gives your digits.

Most types of inflammation only affect a specific area. Usually, swelling will be concentrated in one spot that’s injured or damaged — picture the welt that forms on your leg if you bang your shin on a coffee table. But if you’re experiencing dactylitis, your entire finger or toe (the whole digit) will be swollen along its whole length.

The swelling in your finger or toe might cause other symptoms, including:

  • Pain.
  • A feeling of warmth or heat.
  • Discoloration.
  • Difficulty moving or bending your digit the way you usually can.

Visit a healthcare provider if you notice any symptoms of dactylitis. Swelling that affects your whole finger or toe might be a symptom of a condition you already have, but it can also be a sign of a serious infection or a new issue that needs treatment as soon as possible.


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Possible Causes

What are the most common causes of dactylitis?

The most common causes of dactylitis include:

Visit a provider right away if you’re experiencing dactylitis. Inflammation caused by arthritis or other autoimmune diseases might need treatment over time (sometimes for the rest of your life). Infections need to be treated immediately.

Arthritis causing dactylitis

Arthritis is the most common cause of dactylitis. Any type of arthritis can cause the inflammation that leads to dactylitis, including:

Autoimmune diseases that cause dactylitis

After arthritis, other autoimmune diseases are the most likely cause of dactylitis. The most common conditions that cause this kind of inflammation include:

Infections that cause dactylitis

Infections causing dactylitis is the rarest cause, but it can happen. Some infections that can make your digits swell up include:

Blistering distal dactylitis (BDD) is a specific kind of bacterial infection in the fat pads under your skin at the base of your fingers. It usually affects kids. Dactylitis is almost always a symptom of another condition (like those listed above), but BDD is an exception.

Care and Treatment

How is dactylitis treated?

How your dactylitis is treated depends on what’s causing it.

A healthcare provider will tell you which treatments you’ll need and for how long you’ll need them.

Managing the symptoms of arthritis or another autoimmune disease can be a lifelong process. You might need medications, physical therapy or therapeutic injections like cortisone shots to help relieve your symptoms.

If the dactylitis is caused by an infection, your provider will tell you which treatments or medications you’ll need. It’s important that you take any antibiotics for as long as your provider prescribes. Even if your symptoms improve, you need to take the full dose to completely kill the infection. If you don’t, there’s a chance the infection will come back and be more severe than it was originally.


What can I do to treat dactylitis at home?

If you have chronic dactylitis — dactylitis that comes back again over time — that’s caused by arthritis or a different autoimmune disease you might be able to treat your symptoms at home.

Over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs can reduce pain and inflammation. Talk to your provider before taking NSAIDs for more than 10 days in a row.

Icing your affected digits or soaking your fingers or toes in cold water can help reduce the swelling too. Wrap ice packs in a towel or thin cloth and apply them to your digits for 15 minutes at a time a few times a day.

Visit your provider before starting any treatment at home. They’ll diagnose the cause of the dactylitis and will tell you which home remedies you can use based on what’s causing your specific case.

When To Call the Doctor

When should dactylitis be treated by my provider?

No matter what’s causing inflammation in your fingers or toes, visit a healthcare provider right away if you experience dactylitis — especially if it hurts or feels hot.

Your provider will be able to diagnose the cause of the swelling. If it’s an infection, you’ll need to start treatment immediately to prevent it from spreading or getting worse. If the dactylitis is caused by arthritis or another autoimmune disease, your provider will tell you what to expect and how to manage your symptoms.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Dactylitis isn’t like other types of inflammation because it will affect your whole finger or toe. If one of your digits is swollen, get it examined by a healthcare provider as soon as possible. Even if you’ll probably be able to manage “sausage fingers” at home, dactylitis can be a sign of a serious infection or another condition you need diagnosed right away.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/24/2023.

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