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Hand Foot Syndrome

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What is hand-foot syndrome?

Hand-foot syndrome is a reaction to a medicine used to treat cancer. Hand-foot syndrome usually affects the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.

What are the signs and symptoms of hand-foot syndrome?

Signs and symptoms may range from mild to severe. Severe problems may affect your daily activities.

  • Red skin that looks like a sunburn, blisters, or peeling skin
  • Fingernails or toenails that peel, crack, or come off the nail bed
  • Pain in the affected area
  • Swelling, a rash, or tender skin
  • Numbness, tingling, burning, or itching skin
  • Ulcers (sores) on your skin
  • Trouble walking or using your hands because of swelling or soreness

How is hand-foot syndrome diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider may know you have hand-foot syndrome by looking at your skin. You may need tests to make sure your signs and symptoms are not being caused by another condition. Your healthcare provider may stop or change your chemotherapy until your signs and symptoms get better. Your provider may also prescribe steroid medicine for swelling and pain. The medicine might be a pill to swallow or a cream to apply to your skin. Ask about over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain. Ibuprofen can also help reduce inflammation.

What can I do to manage my symptoms?

  • Apply ice to your skin. Ice will help with pain and burning. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a bag. Cover the pack or bag with a small towel before you apply it to your skin. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes every hour, or as directed.
  • Elevate your hands and feet. This will help relieve pain and swelling. Prop your hands and feet on pillows to keep them elevated comfortably.
  • Be gentle with your skin. Pat your skin dry after you bathe. Do not rub your skin with a towel. Use mild laundry detergents, hand soaps, and cleaning products. Strong chemicals can irritate your skin.
  • Use mild lotions to moisturize your skin. Pat the lotion into your skin. Do not rub it in. Use lotions that are made for sensitive skin.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to prevent hand-foot syndrome?

  • Keep your hands and feet cool. Heat may increase the amount of medication that gets into your blood vessels. Heat can also increase the risk for medicine leaking from the vessels. Do not use hot water when you bathe, wash dishes or items by hand, or wash your hands. Use lukewarm or cool water.
  • Keep pressure off your hands and feet. Pressure increases the risk for medicine leaking from blood vessels. Do not rub your hands or feet.
  • Protect your feet. Do not walk around barefoot. Wear thick cotton socks and soft, comfortable shoes. Regular shoes may rub on your feet and cause irritation. Wear soft slippers or sandals that allow air to get to your feet. Do not run, jump, or do any activity that will increase the risk for leaking blood vessels.
  • Protect your hands. Do not use tools that need you to squeeze your hand on the tool. Examples are a hammer, screwdriver, or gardening tools. Do not use knives. The risk for leaking blood vessels increases when you chop with a knife.
  • Ask about urea cream. Creams that contain 10% urea may help prevent hand-foot syndrome from certain medicines. Ask your healthcare provider if this cream might work for you. You will need to apply the cream to your hands and feet 3 times each day and after you wash your hands.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have new or worsening symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.