Clubbed Fingers

Clubbed fingers are a sign you may be experiencing an underlying health condition, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis. It often occurs when asbestos fibers scar and stiffen the lungs, causing the oxygen levels in your blood to be low for an extended time. All branches of the military are at risk of developing clubbed fingers, but the navy has the highest rate because of the amount of asbestos used on ships.

A picture of someone with clubbed fingers, possibly due to asbestos exposure.

What Does Clubbing of the Fingers Mean?

Clubbed fingers indicate you may be experiencing an underlying health condition rather than a standalone disease. If you’ve noticed your hands swelling until your fingers are enlarged and your nails are curved and warm to the touch, you may suffer from finger clubbing. Clubbing occurs when the oxygen levels in your blood are low for an extended time, also known as hypoxemia. 

Lung cancer is responsible for 80% of finger clubbing cases, but only about 5 – 15% of lung cancer patients will experience signs of clubbing. It generally takes years to develop, presenting itself in five stages, and becomes visible when your underlying health condition reaches its later stages. We recommend speaking to your doctor if you’re worried you may be showing signs. Finger clubbing is unusual, and the signs are easy to overlook, so we’ve gathered everything you need to know about clubbed fingers in one place.

Clubbed fingers present itself in five stages over the years:

  1. Your nail bed softens and your fingers are slightly swelled, but not enough to notice a visible change. 
  2. The angle of your nail fold decreases. 
  3. Your nails are drastically curved, and you will start to notice the clubbing.
  4. Your fingertips expand and bulge
  5. The skin on your fingers has become shiny and striated

Clubbing of the Fingers Causes

There has been a link between asbestos exposure and finger clubbing, although the odds are relatively low that someone with mesothelioma or asbestosis will actually experience clubbed fingers. For those that do, however, typically asbestos fibers enter the body through inhalation and lodge themselves into the lining of your lungs. Over time, the fibers are pulled deeper into the lungs, irritating and scarring your lung tissue. This causes your lungs to become stiff until they can no longer contract or expand normally. The stiffness in your lungs blocks oxygen from reaching your bloodstream, leaving you with clubbed fingers. 

Medical issues affecting the respiratory system, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis, could cause your fingers to begin to club. Many veterans who served in the military were exposed to asbestos during active duty, but the effects typically take 10 to 40 years after initial exposure to show up. Veterans in all branches of the military are at risk of developing clubbed fingers from mesothelioma and asbestosis. Still, the Navy has the highest rate of developing it because of the amount of asbestos used in ships. 

Is Nail Clubbing a Sign of Asbestosis?

Yes, nail clubbing could be a sign of asbestosis. In most cases, finger clubbing occurs early on in your illness, making early detection even more critical. Early detection of mesothelioma and asbestosis will improve your treatment outcomes and help you live longer. According to Verywell Health, finger clubbing is an indication your underlying disease is more likely to progress. As soon as you notice signs of finger clubbing, you should contact your doctor so you can set up a treatment plan for your underlying health condition and reverse your clubbed fingers.

Clubbed Fingers and Asbestosis Treatment

Clubbed fingers are reversible by successfully treating your underlying condition early enough, but no specific treatment is currently available. If you’ve been exposed to asbestos in the past, we recommend visiting a healthcare professional who specializes in asbestos-related diseases. They will be able to help you set up a treatment plan that will reduce your asbestosis symptoms, and help reverse your clubbed fingers. Since asbestosis and mesothelioma are irreversible, treatment plans consist of medication and breathing treatments to ease symptoms. Breathing treatments will help bring more oxygen into your bloodstream, assisting in reducing your clubbing fingers.  

Does the VA Cover Clubbed Fingers if it is Service Related?

Yes, the VA will cover clubbed fingers if it was developed during military service, was worsened by a service-connected condition, or the condition someone has is service-related and caused the clubbing to occur. For your treatment to be covered, you must make a service connection.
To be considered service-connected, there must be a:
    Current disability exists.
    In-service incurrence or aggravation of a disease or injury
    Causal relationship between the current disability and the disease or injury incurred or aggravated during service

Receive Compensation for Clubbed Fingers

Although there is no treatment for clubbing itself, it should start to recede as you treat your underlying condition causing it. You must monitor your signs if you believe you are experiencing signs of clubbed fingers, mesothelioma, or asbestosis. The earlier you catch them, the more treatment options you will have available. If you or a loved one is a veteran who is suffering from clubbed fingers or was exposed to asbestos during service, you may be eligible for legal compensation. When you file for legal action, you are not filing it against the military. Instead, you would be against third-party companies responsible for using asbestos. Our team is here to help navigate the complexities of the legal system and provide the support you need. Don’t hesitate to reach out, we will help you obtain the care and support you need.

Author: Mesothelioma Team – Last Edited: May 24, 2024