Symptoms A-Z

Swelling of One Hand Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

A swollen left or right hand can be commonly caused by inflammation of the joints that can lead to arthritis, or an allergic reaction from contact with certain foods, chemicals, or plants. Other unilateral hand swelling causes include trauma from an injury or injection. Read below for more causes and treatment options.

An image depicting a person suffering from swelling of one hand symptoms

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 9 Possible Swelling Of One Hand Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

Swelling Of One Hand Symptoms

The hands are used almost constantly for carrying out tasks of daily living. If one of your hands starts to seem off, this can set you back quite a bit. Swelling in only one of your hands may cause you to wonder if you injured an important structure or even have an underlying condition.

Swelling, or edema, is the result of fluid buildup that gets trapped in your body's tissues. Buildup can occur when there is an obstruction and fluid cannot properly flow and/or drain. However, fluid buildup can also occur when an area of the body becomes inflamed, injured or damaged. The small blood vessels in the body begin to leak fluid. Moreover, the body can bring in white blood cells to repair the damage, and more fluid follows. Depending on the cause, the swelling can be generalized and occur throughout the body, or localized and only affect a specific part of the body, such as one of your hands.

Characteristics

In addition to the swelling you may also experience symptoms that include:

Swelling Of One Hand Causes

As stated above, fluid buildup can occur in the case of obstruction. In the case of fluid leakage, there are three general mechanisms that can occur that result in fluid buildup in the surrounding tissues of the hand:

  • Excessive force or pressure inside the blood vessels
  • A force external to the blood vessel that can cause fluid to be drawn out
  • Damage or destruction to the blood vessel wall leading to fluid loss

The exact causes behind these mechanisms can be broad, ranging from benign to life-threatening, so it is important to make an appointment with your physician in order to get appropriate care.

Systemic

Systemic causes of swelling of one hand may include the following [1].

  • Circulatory: Problems with the heart and its ability to pump effectively (also known as congestive heart failure) will cause blood to back up in the extremities. This causes excessive pressure in the blood vessels that causes damage and further leakage of fluid into the body's tissues. Furthermore, if the veins of the circulatory system are weakened or damaged, swelling will occur in a similar manner.
  • Lymphatic: The lymphatic system is the body's natural way of clearing excess fluid from tissues.If any of its multiple nodes and vessels are damaged,this can cause swelling all over the body. When there is an imbalance between the production of lymph and drainage, a condition called lymphedema results [2]. Lymphedema can be hereditary or acquired from causes such as trauma, cancer, infection, and problems with blood flow and vasculature.
  • Kidney: The kidney is a potent regulator of bodily fluid because it is responsible for filtering and clearing the blood. With damage or chronic injury to the kidney, filtrate such as proteins, electrolytes, and toxins can remain in the blood and act as forces that draw fluid out.

Inflammatory

Inflammatory causes of swelling in one hand may include the following [1].

  • Rheumatologic: This category includes inflammatory conditions involving the body's tissues and joints that can affect people of all ages, but most commonly affects older adults. Conditions such as arthritis cause inflammation that easily brings fluid into the tissues leading to swelling, redness, and tenderness in the joints. Other rheumatologic/autoimmune conditions such as Raynaud's phenomenon (a condition that results in narrowing of the blood vessels when stressed) or scleroderma (a condition characterized by hardening of the skin) often affect the hands and can result in unilateral swelling.
  • Allergen/Infection: The hands are used on a daily basis for essentially all activities, making them susceptible to allergens or cuts/injury that can easily become infected. Such causes can result in hand swelling along with other symptoms such as hives or pain.

Environmental

Environmental causes can be related to lifestyle habits or certain exposures.

  • Intravenous administration: IV drug users may experience unilateral swelling of hand, colloquially called "puffy hand syndrome" due to repeated injections into the hand. The condition is characterized by both swelling of the hand and forearm and often results in injury or disruption of the lymphatic system. However, even having an IV placed for a medical condition can also cause such symptoms.
  • Trauma: Any activity that causes direct trauma to the hand can result in fracture or dislocation that causes swelling and pain.Even bites to the hand can be a serious traumatic cause that can also lead to infection in addition to generalized swelling of the hand.
  • Positional: Repetitive actions such as typing, using crutches and even walking the dog can cause compression to the nerves and blood vessels that branch throughout the arm to the hand resulting in hand swelling [3].

9 Possible Swelling Of One Hand Conditions

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

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

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

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...

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Swelling Of One Hand 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...

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Hand bone infection (osteomyelitis)

Osteomyelitis of the hand is a bacterial or fungal infection of the hand bones, typically caused by Staph Aureus (40-50% of the time). It is difficult to diagnose as the infection can come from a break in the skin at the area or anywhere else in the body that spreads by blood.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: moderate fever, spontaneous hand pain, constant hand pain, warm and red hand swelling, painful surgical site

Symptoms that always occur with hand bone infection (osteomyelitis): spontaneous hand pain, constant hand pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

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

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...

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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

Swelling Of One Hand Treatments and Relief

The goals for treatment in the setting of hand swelling are to restore function and prevent infection and chronic disability if you are at risk. Depending on the cause of your symptoms your healthcare provider may suggest or prescribe the following treatment options [4,5]:

  • Medications: There are several medications that your physician may consider to target swelling in your hand and also in other parts of your body. Medications called diuretics can decrease the amount of fluid in your body and are often used to treat systemic causes of edema. Anti-inflammatory medications can help swelling caused by rheumatologic or infectious causes.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be considered 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.

Prevention

Prevention of temporary symptoms of hand swelling can be treated by simple lifestyle changes:

  • Avoid repetitive motions or cramped positions that put unnecessary pressure on the nerves and blood vessels of your hands.
  • Relief can often be found in improving your posture, buying a support for your wrists while typing, or taking breaks throughout the day in order to lessen compression and irritation of the nerves in your arms/shoulders and subsequently your hands.
  • If you are an IV drug user and are ready to seek help, talk to your healthcare provider about rehabilitation programs that are right for you.
  • The RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) mnemonic is an often-used guide for treating swelling due to injury. Try resting the hand for a good portion of the day, ice the hand for 20 minutes at a time as you see fit, use a wrap or bandage for compression, and keep the hand elevated when you can, such as on a pillow.

FAQs About Swelling Of One Hand

Here are some frequently asked questions about swelling of one hand.

Why is only one my hands swollen?

Swelling of just one hand is normal in many non-systemic causes of swelling such as rheumatologic and environmental causes. For example, infection or traumatic injury can often involve one hand, or lymphatic drainage problems may be present on one side and not the other.

Will my daily activities be affected by my swollen hand?

Swelling of one hand may cause general discomfort, stiffness and sometimes pain that may make performing activities such as grabbing or transferring more difficult to perform. Sometimes these symptoms may resolve on their own; however, there are many causes of unilateral hand swelling that are chronic and may persist like arthritis in the hands.

Is swelling of one hand after walking my dog normal?

A 2011 study published in ISRN Rheumatology found that postambulatory hand swelling is a relatively common occurrence, particularly in the female population. 28.9 percent of females versus 16.3 percent of males reported this phenomenon and dog owners were more likely than non-owners to report swelling [3].

What is the best way to treat hand swelling caused by minor trauma?

If surgery is not required, first-line therapies include many things you can perform at home such as compression, massage, elevation and alternating icing with heat [4,5].

Can swelling in one of my hands be a side effect of medication?

Yes, swelling in the hand may be a side effect of medications that treat common conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and menopause. Side effects from medication that result in swelling often cause generalized swelling of the body rather than localized swelling to one area. Talk with your healthcare provider if you believe your symptoms are related to your current medications.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swelling Of One Hand

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 swelling of one hand

Swelling Of One Hand Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced swelling of one hand have also experienced:

  • 6% Hand Pain
  • 6% Pain In One Hand
  • 6% Hand Tingling

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

  • 46% Angioedema
  • 30% Cellulitis
  • 23% Dupuytren Disease

People who have experienced swelling of one hand 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”).

Swelling Of One Hand Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Informed Health Online [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Causes and signs of edema. 2008 Nov 5. Updated 2016 Dec 30. NCBI Link
  2. Idowu A, Lee K, Gujral S, Manushakian J. Unilateral swollen hand: A rare case of primary lymphedema tarda. Eplasty. 2015;15:ic53. NCBI Link
  3. Ravaglia FF, Leite MG, Bracellos TF, Cliquet A. postambulatory hand swelling (big hand syndrome): Prevalence, demographics, and association with dog walking. ISRN Rheumatol. 2011;2011:659695. NCBI Link
  4. Miller LK, Jerosch-Herold C, Shepstone L. Effectiveness of edema management techniques for subacute hand edema: A systematic review. J Hand Ther. 2017;30(4):432-446. NCBI Link
  5. Hasham S, Burke FD. Diagnosis and treatment of swellings in the hand. Postgrad Med J. 2007;83(979):296-300. NCBI Link

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.