Swelling happens when fluid builds up inside tissues. Numerous factors can cause it, including temperature changes and underlying medical conditions. If swollen hands are due to a medical issue, treating the issue should resolve the swelling.
A person may notice their fingers or hands appearing larger than usual. The skin may look puffy or shiny, and a dent may occur when a person presses the skin.
Swelling in the hands often goes away without treatment. Making some lifestyle changes can help reduce the frequency of swelling.
Swollen hands may occur at certain times of the day or have a link to particular activities. Making a note of when swelling happens can help pinpoint the cause. It may be a good idea to record the time of day and circumstances when the hands appear swollen.
Some simple home remedies can reduce swelling in the hands. Treatment aims to encourage fluid to flow through the body, allowing the swelling to go down.
Swollen hands may be more noticeable in the morning. Lying still overnight can cause fluid to build up in the tissues of the hands, resulting in swelling.
Stretching the arms and hands at the beginning of the day can help fluid circulate. Here are some examples of simple exercises to try:
- Stretch both arms above the head, toward the ceiling, and hold the position for a few seconds.
- Hold the arms out straight in front of the body and slowly draw circles in the air with the wrists.
- Gently clench fingers into a fist and then release, repeating the movement five times or as many times as is comfortable.
It is more common for the hands to swell in hot weather as blood vessels expand to send more blood to the skin to cool down the body. As the vessels expand, some of their fluid can move into tissue in the hands.
Running the hands and wrists under cool water should reduce the swelling. Another option is to fill a basin with cool water and immerse the hands until the swelling goes down.
Avoid clothes with tight-fitting sleeves, which can cause discomfort along with swelling. Wearing watches or jewelry on the wrists can also reduce circulation. Make sure that these are loose enough to allow fluid to flow normally to and from the hands.
During exercise, the body warms up, causing blood vessels to swell as they would in hot weather and resulting in swollen hands. The swelling usually goes away as the body cools down.
Moderate exercise is beneficial for health. Drink plenty of water before and after exercising, and wear loose clothing that will help keep the body cool.
The medical term for more severe swelling is edema. Seek medical advice if the skin dimples when pressed or if swelling causes discomfort. Swelling in the face or around the eyes can be another sign of edema.
A person may notice swelling in the hands after eating a rich or salty meal.
Reducing the amount of salt in the diet can have health benefits. It is advisable to limit the consumption of fast food, canned foods, and packaged foods as these products all contain high levels of salt or sodium. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and use herbs and spices rather than salt to add flavor.
Doctors recommend seeking medical advice if swelling accompanies any of the following symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- an irregular heartbeat
- urinating less than usual
- swelling that moves up the arms or legs
A cancer care team will be able to give advice and help with swollen hands.
The kidneys filter waste fluid and excess water from the body.
If the kidneys are not working correctly, this may not happen as it should. The fluid and water can collect in the tissues, causing swelling.
A key symptom of arthritis is swelling and stiffness in the joints. Symptoms and the affected areas can vary, depending on the type of arthritis, but inflammatory arthritis conditions commonly affect the hands.
Joints in the fingers and wrists may look red and swollen, feel warm, or feel stiff. These symptoms can be especially noticeable early in the day.
The following symptoms commonly suggest arthritis:
- joints that are stiff for 1 hour or longer in the morning
- swelling that lasts for 3 days or longer
- swelling that occurs three or more times a month
Arthritis usually responds to lifestyle changes and home remedies, such as following a balanced diet, avoiding smoking, and not drinking excess alcohol.
However, doctors may also prescribe medications depending on the type of arthritis, including:
- analgesics, including acetaminophen (Tylenol) and tramadol (Ultram)
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen and aspirin to reduce both pain and inflammation
- counterirritants, such as creams and ointments containing menthol to lessen pain
- disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, such as methotrexate (Trexall)
- biologics, including etanercept (Enbrel) and infliximab (Remicade), to target various protein molecules involved in the immune response
- corticosteroids such as prednisone and cortisone reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system
Swelling in the hands may appear in both hands simultaneously, or one hand may have slightly worse symptoms.
Issues that appear only in one hand may have a few possible causes, including:
Symptoms of swelling in only one hand may indicate an issue such as an injury or other traumatic event.
If swelling appears in only one hand, consider any events that may have irritated the hand. A minor fall or bump may be enough to cause swelling or bruising at times.
In other cases, repeated stress in the area may lead to swelling. Examples of this could be using one-handed free weights or favoring one side of the body while doing other weighted exercises such as pushups or pullups.
Vascular issues in the hand
In other cases, a single hand swelling may indicate an issue in the blood vessels supplying that hand with blood.
Peripheral vascular disease may cause cramping and swelling in the extremities, such as the feet, legs, and hands. While issues may affect both sides of the body, symptoms can appear or be noticeable on one side.
People with specific conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure may be more likely to have vascular disorders. Other factors may also increase the risk, such as smoking or exposure to cold.
If a person is concerned about vascular disease, they should consult a doctor.
Puffy hand syndrome
Puffy hand syndrome may cause swelling in one hand.
A 2020 study notes that a puffy hand is an uncommon clinical complication of IV drug use. Repeated injections into one area of the body with drugs may affect the blood vessels or surrounding tissues may lead to fluid retention and swelling.
If a person injects IV drugs regularly into the veins on their hands, they may experience swelling in the hand on that arm. Other factors may increase this risk, such as not using clean needles or not using a tourniquet while injecting.
Some simple home remedies may treat swelling in the hands that occurs periodically.
Warming or cooling swollen hands can provide relief. Take care not to put anything too hot or cold against the skin. Warm or cool the hands for no longer than 20 minutes, and allow the skin to return to the usual temperature before applying heat or cold again. Some methods to reduce symptoms include:
- heating the muscles to relax them and help the blood to circulate
- taking a warm shower
- applying hot packs to the hands
- wrapping an ice pack in a towel and applying it to the hands
- running hands under cool water
People can encourage fluid to circulate by keeping the body active to help reduce swelling, including:
- trying not to sit still for too long and doing some exercise regularly
- stretching the wrists and arms
- raising the hands above the head
- resting the hands on a table or the arms of the chair while sitting
Drinking plenty of water can help maintain the right balance of chemicals and fluids in the body. It can also help with circulation and help prevent fluid retention.
If the hands regularly swell, it may result from an underlying health condition like kidney disease or arthritis. Treatment for these conditions usually involves medication, which should also reduce the swelling. It is important to consult a doctor so they can prescribe the appropriate medicine.
If it is easy to identify the cause of simple swelling in the hands and the swelling responds well to home remedies, it may not be necessary to speak with a doctor.
There are a few signs to look out for that may indicate it is time to consult a doctor for a definitive diagnosis to rule out an underlying condition or for treatments to help reduce symptoms. A person should contact a doctor about swollen hands if they:
- have swelling that becomes a pattern, occurs frequently, or does not respond to home remedies
- have had issues with their lymph nodes in the past
- have a history of kidney disease
- are pregnant
- are experiencing signs of severe infection, such as a high grade fever, along with swelling, redness, and pain in the hand or hands
Swelling in the hands does not typically cause long-term health issues, but it can be uncomfortable. It may also indicate an underlying health concern.
Simple home remedies can reduce the frequency of swelling in the hands. If these do not work, a person should consult a doctor to check for any underlying issues.