Symptoms A-Z

Why Does Hand Swelling Occur? Learn About Common Causes & Treatments

Swelling in the hands can be quite concerning and be associated with pain, or numbness in the fingers and hands. Hands swelling can be caused by an allergic reaction, fluid buildup within the tissues, or inflammation of the joint in your hand, also known as arthritis. Read below for information on relation symptoms and how to reduce swelling in the hands.

Hand Swelling Symptom Checker

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Common Swollen Hands Symptoms

Hands are critical for daily life and hand swelling is easily noticeable. It may be more difficult to hold objects and carry out daily activities. Some causes of hand swelling will resolve on their own and are not cause for alarm. Others can progress to cause serious damage to the structures of the hand. Hand swelling may also indicate an underlying medical condition.

Common accompanying symptoms of hand swelling

If you're experiencing hand swelling, it's also likely to experience:

  • Pain
  • Warmth
  • Redness
  • Purple discoloration
  • Finger weakness, tingling, or numbness
  • Swelling in other areas of the body
  • Hives

What Causes Swelling in Hands?

Masses

Rather than swelling of the entire hand, you may notice a smaller mass. Hand swellings are usually not cancerous. They can arise from any of the tissue types that are present in the hand, such as bones or tendons.

Arthritis

Many types of arthritis can cause swollen hands and fingers. If the swelling and joint inflammation progresses, using the hands can become increasingly difficult.

Medication side effects

Side effects of certain medications may include swelling of the hands.

  • Intravenous medications: Sometimes IV medications leak out into the surrounding tissue and cause hand swelling symptoms.
  • Oral medications: Some oral medications cause swelling in the hands and feet. Blood pressure medications are particularly prone to causing swelling.

Injury

Injuries can result in hand swelling as the body tries to heal itself.

  • Bites: A cut from a human or cat tooth can cause serious injury to tendons, joints, and bones of the hand. Infection is also common and will lead to pain and swelling.
  • Fracture: Breaking a bone in the hand or wrist, such as by falling onto your outstretched hand, can cause hand swelling symptoms.

Systemic conditions

Systemic conditions that may result in hand swelling include the following.

  • Connective tissue disease: A disorder called scleroderma often has hand swelling as one of the first symptoms. You may also notice color changes in the hands when they are exposed to the cold.
  • Fluid overload: Generalizable swelling occurring throughout the body, or anasarca, may be particularly noticeable in the hands. Increased fluid or edema can occur during pregnancy or due to kidney or liver disease.

Hand swelling causes in children

Hand swelling may occur in children due to the following.

  • Kawasaki disease: Hand swelling can be one sign of a syndrome that also involves high fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a red tongue.
  • Sickle cell disease: Swelling of the fingers and hands is a common presenting sign of sickle cell disease in young children.

Other hand swelling causes

Other causes of hand swelling may include the following.

  • Cold exposure: Some people develop swelling and hives after exposure to cold or holding a cold object.
  • Allergy: The body can overreact to an allergen such as an insect sting or food, resulting in hand swelling and hives along with other symptoms. Allergic reactions can be life-threatening in the case of anaphylaxis, where breathing and circulation are compromised.
  • Exercise: Changes in blood flow during exercise may cause the hands to swell temporarily.
  • Lymphedema: A blockage in drainage of lymphatic fluid can cause swelling in the hand and arm. This can occur due to abnormalities in lymphatic drainage present at birth or as a side effect of surgery.

9 Possible Hand Swelling Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced hand swelling. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Dupuytren disease

Dupuytren Disease, also known as Dupuytren's contracture, is a condition that gradually causes connective tissue (fascia) under the skin of the palm to thicken and become scar-like. Although Dupuytren's isn't painful, it does restrict movement. The thickened tissue forces several fingers - usually the ring and pinky fingers - to curl in toward the palm.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: finger joint stiffness, hand bump, thickened skin on the finger, swollen hands, hand injury

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Bruised hand

A bruise occurs when small blood vessels break and leak their contents into the soft tissue beneath the skin, which causes the purple color of the bruise.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: hand injury, hand pain from an injury, pain in one hand, swelling of one hand, palm bruise

Symptoms that always occur with bruised hand: hand injury, hand pain from an injury

Urgency: Self-treatment

Angioedema

Angioedema is a condition which can cause swelling and puffiness of the face, mouth, tongue, hand or genitals. It is often related to an allergic reaction to food, medicines or insect bites.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: nausea or vomiting, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), diarrhea, swollen face, hand swelling

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the feet, lower legs, and face.

The condition can develop if Staphylococcus bacteria enter broken skin through a cut, scrape, or existing skin infection such as impetigo or eczema.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system, as from corticosteroids or chemotherapy, or with impaired circulation from diabetes or any vascular disease.

Symptoms arise somewhat gradually and include sore, reddened skin.

If not treated, the infection can become severe, form pus, and destroy the tissue around it. In rare cases, the infection can cause blood poisoning or meningitis.

Symptom of severe pain, fever, cold sweats, and fast heartbeat should be seen immediately by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Treatment consists of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean, and sometimes surgery to remove any dead tissue. Cellulitis often recurs, so it is important to treat any underlying conditions and improve the immune system with rest and good nutrition.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Hand Swelling Symptom Checker

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Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that is autoimmune in nature, meaning that the body's immune system which normally protects the body by att...

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a condition which causes inflammation of the joints. In most circumstances, psoriatic arthritis presents between the ages of 30 and 50 years and occurs after the manifestation of the symptoms of psoriasis, which is a disease of the skin. Psoriatic arthritis...

Irritant contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis means a skin reaction that is caused by directly touching an irritating substance, and not by an infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus.

Common causes are soap, bleach, cleaning agents, chemicals, and even water. Almost any substance can cause it with prolonged exposure. Contact dermatitis is not contagious.

Anyone who works with an irritating substance can contract the condition. Mechanics, beauticians, housekeepers, restaurant workers, and health care providers are all susceptible.

Symptoms include skin that feels swollen, stiff, and dry, and becomes cracked and blistered with painful open sores.

A medical provider can give the best advice on how to heal the skin and avoid further irritation. Self-treatment can make the problem worse if the wrong creams or ointments are used.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, to find out what substances the patient comes into contact with, and through physical examination of the damaged skin.

Treatment involves avoiding the irritating substance if possible. Otherwise, the person can use petroleum jelly on the hands underneath cotton and then rubber gloves.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: rash with well-defined border, itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, painful rash, red rash

Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis: rash with well-defined border

Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes

Urgency: Self-treatment

Lupus

Lupus is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that happens when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells, tissues, and organs. Lupus is also a systemic disease and can affect multiple body systems including the heart, lungs, joints and even skin.

Since lupus can affect multiple organ systems, symptoms can...

De quervain's tenosynovitis

De Quervain's tenosynovitis is a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist. If you have de Quervain's tenosynovitis, you will feel pain upon turning your wrist, grasping anything, or making a fist.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: hand numbness, thumb pain, hand weakness, weakness in one hand, numbness in one hand

Symptoms that always occur with de quervain's tenosynovitis: thumb pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Treating Swollen Hands

When hand swelling is an emergency

Call 911 immediately for the following.

  • You have a hand injury: With tingling, numb, weak, or cold fingers
  • You have difficulty breathing or facial swelling
  • You have decreased ability to move one or more fingers
  • Your hand swelling occurred after a human or cat bite
  • You have pain and swelling after falling onto an outstretched hand
  • You are concerned about a child who has hand swelling: Especially if he or she has been diagnosed with sickle cell disease, or the child also has a fever.

When to see a doctor for hand swelling

In some cases, you should seek medical evaluation even though emergency treatment isn't necessary. Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • You recently started a new medication
  • You were previously diagnosed with arthritis, sickle cell disease, or organ failure
  • You have a persistent growth on the hand
  • You develop open sores on the hand or fingers
  • You are pregnant

Medical treatments for hand swelling

Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of the hand swelling.

  • An epinephrine pen ("Epi-Pen"): This is to prevent dangerous allergic reactions.
  • Referral for surgical management of a hand mass
  • Treatment for an underlying medical condition
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Diuretic: This is a medication to decrease the amount of fluid in the body.

At-home treatments for hand swelling

The following home treatments may help with hand swelling.

  • Think ahead: If the swelling occurs in response to cold, protect your hands from cold objects or take an antihistamine like Benadryl ahead of time.
  • Ice: This can help reduce swelling immediately after an injury.
  • NSAIDs: Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help with swollen joints.

FAQs About Hand Swelling

Here are some frequently asked questions about hand swelling.

Is hand swelling during pregnancy dangerous?

Hand swelling, along with swelling of other parts of the body like the feet, often occurs as a normal part of late pregnancy. However, it can also be a sign of a condition called preeclampsia, which can be associated with dangerously high blood pressure. Make sure to tell your medical provider if you are having swelling along with other symptoms like headache and visual changes. You should also make an appointment for evaluation of swelling if high blood pressure has ever been an issue during the pregnancy.

What should I do if my hand swells after a cat bite?

Cat bites can cause significant damage and infection of the skin, joints, or bone because the teeth can pierce deeply into the hand. Swelling after a bite may indicate a developing infection, particularly if redness and pain are also present. You should seek immediate medical evaluation for antibiotic treatment. Depending on the severity of infection and tissue damage, hospitalization and even surgical management may be required.

Can hand swelling occur due to an allergy?

Hand swelling would not be the only sign of an allergic reaction, but it can occur as one of several symptoms. The most serious type of allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, which involves the whole body and can be life-threatening. Seek immediate emergency evaluation if you have swelling of the face and lips, difficulty breathing, feeling faint, or gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting after exposure to an allergen such as an insect sting.

Why is only one of my hands swollen?

Several conditions can cause swelling of just one hand. Infection or injury will likely only involve one hand. An abnormality of lymphatic fluid drainage may affect only one side. In addition, there are many types of masses that will likely affect just one hand, such as a ganglion cyst. If you have been receiving an IV medication in one hand, you may notice swelling on that side.

Can medications cause hand swelling?

Yes, some medications can cause hand swelling as a side effect. In the hospital, IV medications may leak into the tissue around an IV in the hand. Fluid overload, often particularly noticeable in the hands and feet, can be caused by oral medications such as blood pressure medications, estrogen, or anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Hand Swelling

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Where is your hand area swelling?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer?
  • Do you have these contractures that limit the movement of your fingers? (See picture)

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your hand swelling

Hand Swelling Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced hand swelling have also experienced:

  • 12% Hand Pain
  • 5% Hand Tingling
  • 3% Hand Itch

People who have experienced hand swelling were most often matched with:

  • 60% Angioedema
  • 30% Dupuytren Disease
  • 10% Bruised Hand

People who have experienced hand swelling had symptoms persist for:

  • 37% Less than a day
  • 35% Less than a week
  • 13% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Hand Swelling Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your hand swelling

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.