Hand Swelling

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What is hand swelling?

Hand swelling is a sign of fluid buildup or inflammation of the tissues or joints of the hand. Hand swelling, which is also called edema, can also result from serious infections, trauma, and other abnormal processes.

Depending on the cause, hand swelling can last for a short time, such as when it occurs during or after exercise. Chronic hand swelling, or swelling that builds up over time, often indicates an inflammatory process, such as arthritis. Hand swelling can also be caused by orthopedic conditions, such as a bone fracture or a cast that is too tight.

Because swollen hands can be a sign of a serious disease or disorder, you should seek prompt medical care and talk with your medical professional about your symptoms, especially if you experience hand swelling with pain, redness or warmth.

What other symptoms might occur with hand swelling?

Hand swelling may be accompanied by other symptoms depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, hand swelling due to an infection may be accompanied by fever and chills, as well as redness and warmth around the affected area.

Symptoms that may occur along with hand swelling

Hand swelling may occur with other symptoms including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, hand swelling may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have hand swelling along with other serious symptoms including:

  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • Red and warm skin

  • Unexplained weight gain (may be from excessive fluid buildup)

What causes hand swelling?

Hand swelling can be caused by relatively minor conditions, such as fluid retention during premenstrual syndrome or pregnancy. Swelling can also be due to injury or trauma, infection, inflammatory conditions, and other abnormal processes.

In some cases, hand swelling is a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting.

Injury-related causes of hand swelling

Hand swelling can occur from injury-related conditions including:

Degenerative, infectious, inflammatory and autoimmune causes of hand swelling

Swollen hands can accompany inflammatory, infectious and autoimmune conditions including:

Other causes of hand swelling

Other serious or potentially life-threatening disorders include:

Medications that can cause hand swelling

Always advise your doctor of any medications or treatments you are using including prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplements, and herbal or alternative treatments. The following medications may be a possible cause of hand swelling:

  • Antidepressants, such as tricyclics and MAO inhibitors

  • Diabetes medications

  • High blood pressure medications

  • Hormone therapy

  • Steroids

Questions for diagnosing the cause of hand swelling

To diagnose the underlying cause of hand swelling, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. You can best help your health care practitioner in diagnosing the underlying cause of hand swelling by providing complete answers to these questions:

  • What is the exact location of the swelling?

  • Describe the swelling. When did the swelling start? Does it come and go or is it constant?

  • Are any other body areas swelling?

  • Are you experiencing any pain, shortness of breath, or other symptoms?

  • Provide your full medical history, including all medical conditions, surgeries and treatments, family history, and a complete list of the medications and dietary supplements that you take.

What are the potential complications of hand swelling?

Complications associated with hand swelling can be progressive and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because swelling can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to visit your health care provider when you experience swelling or other unusual symptoms. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan outlined by your doctor can lower your risk for potential complications including:

  • Amputation

  • Chronic disability

  • Hand deformity

  • Hand weakness

  • Inability to perform daily tasks

  • Poor quality of life

  • Spread of infection to other tissues

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 20
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Edema. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/edema.html
  2. Hand/wrist/arm problems. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/526.html