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Brachydactyly: Definition, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Something short is 'brachy-'. So what is brachydactyly then? You'll learn the definition of this term as well as its causes and possible treatment options in this lesson.

Brachydactyly

Small digits include the likes of 1, 2 & 3. But small digits are also found in brachydactyly, a condition where a person has shorter than normal digits (the fingers and toes). The term comes to us from the following word parts:

1. 'Brachy-', which means 'short'. Perhaps you've heard of 'short-nosed' dog breeds like pugs? Those are 'brachy'cephalic dogs.

2. '-dactyl-', which refers to a digit, a finger or toe. Maybe you've heard of the flying dinosaur ptero'dactyl'us? They had 'winged fingers'.

Hopefully that'll help you remember the definition of brachydactyly.

This lesson is going to explain this condition's causes and potential treatment options.

Causes

Most forms of brachydactyly are genetic in origin. They are often inherited in an autosomal dominant manner. What does this mean? It means this disorder is inherited from Mom and/or Dad in a very specific form. In autosomal dominant disorders, you only need to inherit an abnormal gene from one parent in order to get the disease. This is in contrast to an autosomal recessive disorder, where you must inherit the abnormal gene from both parents in order to get the disorder.

The way brachydactyly is expressed in the person will vary. Sometimes only one bone or multiple bones in a digit are affected. Other times a similar bone in all the digits is affected. In still other cases different bones of different digits will be shortened. The end result is a case of an unusually shortened bone or bones leading to a short finger(s) and/or toe(s).

Other causes of brachydactyly include drug use during pregnancy or blood flow issues in a developing child.

Different types of brachydactyly
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Treatment

In many cases, brachydactyly doesn't cause any significant problem for the person who has a short finger or toe, so there may really be no need for any treatment whatsoever. This is especially true for people who do not have any associated genetic disorder that can lead to brachydactyly, such as Down syndrome.

In other instances, a person may have significant trouble gripping an object or even walking in some cases. Believe it or not, you really need those toes, especially the big toe, in order to walk well!

In such instances, the person may be a good candidate for physical therapy. Physical therapy will help improve the balance, strength, range of motion, and function of the affected hands or feet.

In really serious cases, surgery is used to treat the condition in order to lengthen the bone. Such a treatment plan begins with an osteotomy, or cutting the person's bone. The affected bone is purposefully cut and the pieces are spread apart and stabilized with a fixator. Just like your bone naturally heals if it's broken in an accident, it will do the same after the osteotomy. This way, the bones can be pulled apart a bit (lengthened) and your body does the rest! It simply fills in the gaps with new bone to result in a longer bone.

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