A woman’s swollen and painful pinky finger turns out to be a rare manifestation of tuberculosis. How does this happen?

Swollen Pinky Finger

On many occasions, swollen fingers mean sprains or other injuries. That is not the case for a 42-year-old woman who reportedly went to the doctors because the pinky finger on her left hand was swollen and painful. She had no history of trauma to the swollen area, and CT scans and X-rays revealed the swelling of the soft tissue in her finger, but no problem was found with her bones.

When doctors performed a biopsy on her swollen skin, they found that it actually had Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the very bacteria that causes tuberculosis. Interestingly, they did not find traces of the bacteria in any other part of her body.

While tuberculosis often affects the lungs, it can actually affect other parts of the body. Authors of the report published in the New England Journal of Medicine note that tuberculosis of the finger is a rare manifestation of tuberculosis outside the lungs.

In the woman’s case, doctors believe that she caught the infection from her husband who was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis after a trip to China. As it happens, the woman has lupus, and so was taking medications to suppress her immune system, making her more susceptible to contracting infections. She was treated for tuberculosis for nine months and her symptoms eventually went away.


Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis which can be spread through expelled air droplets. In most cases, the bacteria affects and settles in the lungs where it begins to grow. If left untreated, it can spread to other body parts such as the kidneys, brain, and spine, and can be life-threatening.

Previous research has found that a third of the world’s population actually has the bacteria in their bodies, but not everyone gets sick. In fact, only 5 to 10 percent of them were seen to actually develop an active tuberculosis illness in their lifetime, particularly when the lungs are damaged by illness or compromised by smoking. As shown by the current case, those with weakened immune systems are also more prone to developing tuberculosis.

In 2016 alone, there were 10,000 new cases of tuberculosis in the United States. Symptoms of the illness may include a lingering cough, pain in the chest, fever, fatigue, night sweats, coughing up blood, and weight loss. It is worth noting that a person can be contagious and spread the disease even if they are not presenting any of the symptoms.

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