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  • Author: Samuel T Selden, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
Updated: Sep 16, 2015


Ainhum (dactylolysis spontanea) is a condition of idiopathic etiology involving a bandlike constriction of soft tissue and a digit. Generally, the constriction presents bilaterally, with involvement of the fifth digit, most commonly. Pseudoainhum is a similar condition that occurs as a secondary event resulting from certain hereditary and nonhereditary diseases that lead to annular constriction of digits.

Ainhum predominantly affects black patients in tropical regions. Although it has been reported in temperate areas, ainhum appears to be increasingly less common in the United States.[1, 2]

The origin of the term ainhum is unclear. In 1867, the term was used by da Silva Lima[3] from Bahia, Brazil to report the first published case. The word ainhum means fissure in the language of the Nagos tribe of Brazil and may be related to ayun, the word for saw in the Lagos tribe of Nigeria. The synonym for ainhum is dactylolysis spontanea.



In true ainhum, dactylolysis of a toe (most commonly, but not always,[4] the fifth toe) most likely is triggered by trauma; however, the true cause remains unknown. The trauma may be related to walking barefoot in the tropics. A fibrotic band develops from a flexural groove and progressively constricts the full radius of the toe until spontaneous autoamputation occurs. A similar progression occurs in pseudoainhum because of a collagen band, rather than from fibrosis. Pseudoainhum may be acquired or congenital as discussed in a father and son case that described differing types of constricting bands.[5]

Ainhum most commonly affects the feet, but in rare instances it can affect the fingers.[6]

Ainhum of the finger. Courtesy of Hon Pak, MD, and Ainhum of the finger. Courtesy of Hon Pak, MD, and reviewed by Ross Levy, MD.



United States

Approximately 130 cases have been reported in the United States, but only 30 cases have been reported since 1960. Pseudoainhum is a rare disorder.


Ainhum is a relatively common disease among black Africans. In Africa, the incidence range is 0.2-2%. The incidence of true ainhum outside of Africa appears to be low.


Ainhum has been reported to affect all races but occurs most commonly in individuals of African, Asian, West Indian, North American, and Central American descent. No racial predilection exists for pseudoainhum.


In Nigeria, one study revealed an incidence of 2.48 cases per 1000 males and 1.08 cases per 1000 females; however, recent investigations suggest no sex preference.


Full-blown ainhum is uncommon in persons younger than 30 years and older than 50 years. The reason ainhum appears to be age specific is unclear. Early lesions may be observed in childhood.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Samuel T Selden, MD Assistant Professor Department of Dermatology Eastern Virginia Medical School; Consulting Staff, Chesapeake General Hospital; Private Practice

Samuel T Selden, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, International Society of Geriatric Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Richard P Vinson, MD Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Dermatology, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Paul L Foster School of Medicine; Consulting Staff, Mountain View Dermatology, PA

Richard P Vinson, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, Texas Medical Association, Association of Military Dermatologists, Texas Dermatological Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Jeffrey J Miller, MD Associate Professor of Dermatology, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine; Staff Dermatologist, Pennsylvania State Milton S Hershey Medical Center

Jeffrey J Miller, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Dermatology, Society for Investigative Dermatology, Association of Professors of Dermatology, North American Hair Research Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Dirk M Elston, MD Professor and Chairman, Department of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine

Dirk M Elston, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Smeena Khan, MD Private Practice, Adult and Pediatric Dermatology Associates

Smeena Khan, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha and American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Ainhum of the finger. Courtesy of Hon Pak, MD, and reviewed by Ross Levy, MD.
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