Hand swelling occurs when there is fluid build-up or inflammation of the tissues or joints in the hand. Hand swelling, also known as oedema, can also be caused by serious infections, trauma and other abnormal processes.
Whatever the reason, hand swelling can usually go away on its own after a short period of time, especially when it occurs during or after exercise. Chronic hand swelling, however, builds up over time. This is often a sign of 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.
Symptoms of swollen hands
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. Hand swelling may occur with other symptoms including:
- Fever and chills
- Hand lumps or bumps
- Hand weakness (loss of strength)
- Numbness or tingling
- Painful or tender areas
- Reduced range of motion or movement in a joint
- Swollen joints
- Wrist swelling
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 if you have hand swelling along with other serious symptoms, including:
- High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38 degrees Celsius)
- Red and warm skin
- Unexplained weight gain (may be from excessive fluid build-up)
Causes of hand swelling
Hand swelling can be caused by relatively minor conditions, such as fluid retention during premenstrual syndrome or pregnancy. Hand swelling can occur from injuries like broken bones, lacerations or dog bites, and it can accompany inflammatory, infectious and autoimmune conditions such as bursitis, cellulitis, cysts, infection or arthritis.
In some cases, hand swelling is a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These cases can include obesity, hypothyroidism, kawasaki disease, lymphatic obstruction and pre-eclampsia (a serious condition marked by swelling, high blood pressure and protein in the urine that can develop during pregnancy)
How to diagnose 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. They will ask things like the exact location of the swelling, when the swelling started, whether you are experiencing pain or other symptoms and your full medical history.
When hand swelling reaches emergency situations
You need to call 911 immediately if you experience the following:
- You experience tingling on your hand or if it feels numb, weak or cold following an injury
- You have difficulty breathing or have facial swelling
- Your hand swelling occurred after a human or animal bite
- You have pain and swelling after falling onto an outstretched hand
- Quickly spreading or rapidly worsening redness
- Severe, sudden or worsening hand swelling or pain
- High or persistent fever
- Lack of urination
- Paralysis or inability to move the hands
You should pay extra attention if your child has hand swelling, especially if they have been diagnosed with sickle cell disease or have a fever.
Medical treatments for hand swelling
Your physician may prescribe one or more of the treatments described below, depending on the cause of the hand swelling. They may recommend antihistamine or an Epi-pen if the swelling is a result of an allergic reaction.
They may also recommend surgery if your hand swelling is the result of compressive etiologies (causes) that may result from positional problems, such as typing, and sometimes masses in your hand, such as a cyst, that may be causing compression.
If your hand swells as a result of trauma or injury, rest and elevate your hand to reduce the irritation. You may also apply warm or cold compress during this time. Applying a warm compress can help soothe redness and inflammation from an infectious process. Applying a cold compress or ice can reduce redness and irritation from inflammatory or irritating causes like exposure to allergens, irritants or heat.
If your hand swells due to an infectious cause, drink as many fluids as you can to stay hydrated and keep your body strong enough to fight the infection, especially if you also have a fever.
You can also take pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help with swollen joints.
Swollen hands prevention methods
Prevention of temporary symptoms of hand swelling can be treated by simple lifestyle changes. For starters, avoid repetitive motions or cramped positions that put unnecessary pressure on the nerves and blood vessels of your hands.
Also, pay attention to your hand posture. If you are prone to hand pain when typing, you can buy support for your wrists or take breaks throughout the day in order to lessen the pressure on your hands.
Read the labels of the food you buy to check if there are ingredients to which you might be allergic. When eating out in restaurants, always inform the waiter about the things you are allergic to so they can recommend to you the foods that are safe to eat.
Got a question or anything I can help with? My name is Steve Stretton, and I’m the owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. You can drop me a line here. Good luck!