Swollen Hands: Medical Causes and Treatment

Medically Reviewed By Stella Bard, MD
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Hand swelling, also called edema, is a sign of fluid buildup or inflammation of the tissues or joints of the hand. Hand swelling can also result from serious infections, trauma, and other conditions. Depending on the cause, hand swelling can be temporary, such as when it occurs during or after exercise. Chronic hand swelling, or swelling that increases over time, is often an indication of an inflammatory condition, 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 doctor about your symptoms. This is especially true if you are experiencing hand swelling with pain, redness, or warmth.

Keep reading to learn about the possible causes of swollen hands and treatment options.

What causes swollen hands?

a person has their hands clasped on a table
VegterFoto/Stocksy United

These are the most likely causes of hand swelling according to the National Health Service (NHS):

  • remaining in the same position for a long period of time
  • eating too much salt
  • pregnancy
  • some medications

Medications

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

  • antidepressants, such as tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • diabetes medications
  • high blood pressure medications
  • medications used in hormone therapy
  • steroids

Injuries

Hand swelling can occur from injury-related conditions including:

  • a broken bone or other hand injuries
  • laceration or blunt force trauma that causes bruising and swelling, such as a dog bite
  • muscle, ligament, or cartilage injuries, such as a torn ligament or pulled muscle
  • repetitive stress injury

In these cases, the swelling is due to the body’s immune response sending fluid to the injured area. This means more cells are available to help repair the injuries. Sometimes, however, this inflammatory response can itself be painful.

Other causes

Hand swelling may also be the result of the following factors or conditions:

  • sudden changes in temperature
  • an insect bite
  • a skin allergy
  • conditions that affect the kidneys, liver, or heart
  • a blood clot
  • an infection
  • other conditions, such as lymphoedema or any form of inflammatory arthritis

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 swollen hands

Swollen hands may occur with other symptoms including:

When to contact a doctor

You should seek medical care if you notice that the swelling has not improved after a few days of home treatments or if the swelling worsens.

You should also contact your doctor if you notice swelling in your hands and are pregnant. It may cause your skin to stretch further.

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life threatening condition

Call 911 if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • high fever
  • chills or shivers
  • swelling in one hand but no obvious injury
  • hand swelling and you have diabetes
  • warm and red or discolored skin
  • unexplained weight gain, which may be from excessive fluid buildup

How are swollen hands diagnosed?

To diagnose the underlying cause of hand swelling, your doctor will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. You can best help them with the diagnosis by providing complete answers to these questions:

  • What is the exact location of the swelling?
  • Describe the swelling. For example, when did the swelling start? Does it come and go, or is it constant?
  • Do you have swelling in other areas?
  • Are you experiencing any pain, shortness of breath, or other symptoms?

Your doctor may also ask for your full medical history. This can include all medical conditions, surgeries and treatments, family history, and a complete list of the medications and dietary supplements you take.

At-home treatment

The following at-home treatment tips may help if you are experiencing hand swelling:

  • Elevate the swollen area when possible, such as supporting your hands with pillows while sleeping.
  • Move your whole arm from the shoulder.
  • Try opening and closing your fist with your arm raised above your head.
  • Massage your hand toward your body firmly without applying so much pressure as to cause pain.
  • Try some gentle exercise.
  • Drink enough water to stay hydrated.
  • Maintain good hygiene and moisturization to avoid infection.
  • Try putting your hands in warm water followed by cold water.

Medical treatment

Medical treatment for swelling that is caused by an infection may involve antibiotics or even surgery.

If your hand swelling does not go away on its own or with at-home treatment, and you notice other symptoms or feel concerned, your doctor may suggest medical treatment.

Medical treatment may involve addressing an underlying condition that could be causing the swelling, such as arthritis. Your doctor will determine this after diagnosing the underlying condition, if present.

Your doctor may also suggest changing any medication you are taking if they believe it could be causing the swelling. Other treatment options for hand swelling may include:

  • diuretics, or water pills
  • anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen
  • compression aids, such as gloves, to help reduce the swelling
  • lifestyle changes, such as a low sodium diet or weight loss if appropriate

Summary

Hand swelling is usually the result of a buildup of fluid, commonly referred to as edema. The body may send fluid to areas that are injured, causing swelling.

Common causes of hand swelling include consuming too much salt, pregnancy, injury, remaining in the same position for a long time, and certain medications. Some conditions can also cause hand swelling, including arthritis or certain kidney, liver, or heart conditions.

Hand swelling usually goes away on its own or with at-home care. Seek immediate medical care if the swelling remains for more than a few days or if your symptoms worsen.

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Medical Reviewer: Stella Bard, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Jun 8
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