Having swollen hands is a relatively common symptom that mainly occurs due to water retention or inflammation from poor circulation. This type of swelling is frequent in people who consume high amounts of salt and in women, who will often experience fluctuating hormone levels.
Swelling generally disappears with simple measures, like elevating your arms and opening and closing your hands rapidly. However, in some cases, swelling may be related to health conditions like arthritis, tendinitis, high blood pressure or cardiac failure. In these cases, medical assessment is advised to ensure treatment is targeted and appropriate for the cause.
If you notice swollen hands, you should monitor for other symptoms like fatigue, difficulty breathing or pain, as these symptoms indicate a more serious condition that requires further medical attention.
What causes swollen hands?
Swollen hands can occur for the following reasons:
1. Poor circulation
Poor circulation is the most common cause of hand and finger swelling and occurs due to natural aging processes in the body. Over time, veins start to lose their elasticity and become more stiff, which makes blood return from the extremities more difficult. This leads to blood accumulated in the hands and feet, which may result in swelling..
What to do: Moving your arms, hands and fingers every hour can help to treat and prevent swelling. Some patients may benefit from massage or lymphatic drainage to promote circulation.
2. High summer temperatures
During the summer, it is common to notice swollen hands and fingers. This is due to a rise in temperature that promotes vasodilation, which delivers more blood to certain areas of the body, causing swelling.
What to do: Lifting your arms and opening and closing your hands can help to facilitate blood return to the heart. Massage and lymphatic drainage can also stimulate more effective circulation. During hot weather, it is important to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day and to maintain a balanced diet to prevent water retention and swelling in the hands and fingers.
3. Excess salt
Excess salt intake can cause swelling in the hands and fingers. Salt contains sodium, which naturally attracts water. High levels of sodium in the body can cause the body to retain water instead of eliminating it. Learn more about the symptoms of water retention and what else can cause it.
What to do: To avoid water retention, you should decrease your salt intake. You can try seasoning your dishes with aromatic herbs instead to add flavor. See the different ways you can treat swelling from water retention.
4. Physical activity
Physical activity, particularly a long walk or run, stimulates the body to pump more blood to the heart, lungs and muscles. That’s because these organs require more oxygen during aerobic activity. This leads to decrease blood flow to the extremities, which can cause vasodilation and swelling.
What to do: Lift arm arms and open and close your hands during exercise to promote circulation to the extremities and prevent swelling.
5. High blood pressure
High blood pressure is a common condition, particularly in older adults due to natural aging processes that makes blood vessels more rigid. With hypertension, the heart needs to pump blood against a greater resistance to ensure it gets to all parts of the body.
When blood does reach the extremities, like the hands and fingers, blood return can be more difficult, causing swelling. Read more about the symptoms of high blood pressure that may occur along with swelling.
What to do: High blood pressure should be treated with medication as prescribed by a cardiologist. In the meantime, exercise, weight loss, and decreased salt intake can help to manage high blood pressure and reduce hand swelling.
Check out these home remedies for high blood pressure that you can use to complement your prescribed treatment.
6. Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve that runs from the wrist to the hand is compromised or pinched. It affects finger sensitivity in the pointer, middle and ring finger, and can lead to swelling, as well as numbness, tingling and burning.
What to do: The doctor will likely prescribe a splint to immobilize the wrist, which helps to relieve pain and swelling in the hands. You should see an orthopedic surgeon to indicate the most appropriate treatment, which may involve medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, corticosteroid injections or even surgery.
Arthritis is an inflammatory disease that causes joint pain and stiffness, particularly in the hands and fingers. It can lead to severe swelling, as well as symptoms like decreased movement and redness.
What to do: You should consult a rheumatologist to initiate the most appropriate treatment. Treatment may involve the use of anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy or surgery. In addition, you should maintain an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in berries, citrus fruit, fish with omega-3 and green tea. This can help to manage swelling in the hands and fingers - read more about the arthritis diet.
Tendonitis is characterized by inflammation in the tendons, including those in the hands and fingers. It causes symptoms like swelling, pain and increased sensitivity. Read more about the most common symptoms of tendonitis and how they are managed.
The main types of tendonitis that can affect the hands are De Quervain’s tenosynovitis (which affects the tendons at the bottom of the thumb) and trigger finger (which affects the tendons in the ring finger or thumb).
What to do: Swelling and pain can be treated with cold compresses, which reduce blood flow to the area. You should see an orthopedic surgeon for guidance regarding analgesic or anti-inflammatory use, physiotherapy and possible surgery.
Gout is a condition that occurs due to an accumulation of uric acid in the joints. It occurs when uric acid is unable to be eliminated in the urine, and can lead to swollen hands and joints, as well as redness, pain, and small nodules in the finger joints.
What to do: You are advised to see a rheumatologist regarding the most appropriate treatment. The doctor may prescribe alopurinol, probenacid or colchicine, which help to decrease uric acid levels. You should also maintain a gout diet, which includes fruit like apples, oranges and strawberries, vegetables and legumes.
10. Hormonal changes
Hormonal changes, particularly fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone, occur with a normal menstrual cycle, PMS or pregnancy. It can cause swollen hands and fingers, as these changes tend to promote water retention.
Swelling often occurs with other symptoms like mood changes and headaches, especially with PMS. Learn more about common PMS symptoms that can emerge prior to a period.
What to do: Massage or lymphatic drainage may help to reduce swelling and prevent water retention in some women. You should drink plenty of fluids and consume naturally diuretic foods, like melon or watermelon.
11. Heart failure
Heart failure is characterized by the heart’s inability to pump blood efficiently. This can lead to blood accumulation in the arms, causing swollen hands and fingers.
Generally, swelling is also noted in the feet, as well as other symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pressure.
What to do: Heart failure should be treated with medication prescribed by the doctor, and monitored by a cardiologist. Patients should also reduce salt intake and engage in light physical activity, as guided by their cardiologist.
12. Medication use
Some medication, like corticosteroids and minoxidil, can cause swelling in the hands and fingers. Swelling is a side effect of many blood pressure medications, like captopril, enalapril, lisinopril, amlodipine, and nimodipine.
What to do: You should report any medication side effects to your prescriber, who may reassess dosing or the possibility of another medication. Simple measures, like elevating your arms and massaging swollen areas, can help to reduce swelling in the hands and fingers.
13. Kidney failure
Kidney failure is a condition characterized by insufficient kidney function, in which the kidneys are unable to eliminate excess fluid through the urine. It can lead to swelling in the hands and fingers, as well as in the feet and face.
What to do: Kidney failure should be monitored by a nephrologist, who will prescribe treatment as appropriate. In very advanced stages of kidney failure, dialysis may be necessary.
When to see a doctor
Swollen hands and fingers should be urgently assessed if it occurs with the following signs and symptoms:
- Swelling that occurs suddenly
- Swelling that affects just one hands
- Hand or finger redness
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing or increased phlegm
- Symptoms like fever or tingling
In these cases, the doctor may order testing, like blood work or a dopplar, to identify the underlying cause of the swollen hands. Confirming a diagnosis will help to guide the most appropriate treatment.