What causes hand swelling?

Hand swelling can be caused by relatively minor conditions, such as fluid retention during premenstrual syndrome or pregnancy. Swelling can also be due to injury or trauma, infection, inflammatory conditions, and other abnormal processes.

In some cases, hand swelling is a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting.

Injury-related causes of hand swelling

Hand swelling can occur from injury-related conditions including:

  • Broken bone or other hand injury

  • Laceration or blunt force trauma (bruising and swelling), such as from a dog bite

  • Muscle, ligament or cartilage injury, such as a torn ligament or pulled muscle

  • Repetitive stress injury

Degenerative, infectious, inflammatory and autoimmune causes of hand swelling

Swollen hands can accompany inflammatory, infectious and autoimmune conditions including:

  • Bursitis

  • Cellulitis (skin infection)

  • Ganglion cyst (growth or swelling on top of joint or tendon)

  • Infected wound, such as a Staphylococcus aureus bacterial infection

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Septic arthritis

Systemic lupus erythematosus

Other causes of hand swelling

Other serious or potentially life-threatening disorders include:

  • Being overweight

  • Hyponatremia (very low sodium)

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Kawasaki disease (rare disease that involves blood vessel inflammation)

  • Lymphatic obstruction

  • Pre-eclampsia (a serious condition marked by swelling, high blood pressure, and protein in the urine that can develop during pregnancy)

Medications that can cause hand swelling

Always advise your doctor of any medications or treatments you are using including prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplements, and herbal or alternative treatments. The following medications may be a possible cause of hand swelling:

  • Antidepressants, such as tricyclics and MAO inhibitors

  • Diabetes medications

  • High blood pressure medications

  • Hormone therapy

  • Steroids

Questions for diagnosing the cause of 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. You can best help your health care practitioner in diagnosing the underlying cause of hand swelling by providing complete answers to these questions:

  • What is the exact location of the swelling?

  • Describe the swelling. When did the swelling start? Does it come and go or is it constant?

  • Are any other body areas swelling?

  • Are you experiencing any pain, shortness of breath, or other symptoms?

  • Provide your full medical history, including all medical conditions, surgeries and treatments, family history, and a complete list of the medications and dietary supplements that you take.

What are the potential complications of hand swelling?

Complications associated with hand swelling can be progressive and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because swelling can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to visit your health care provider when you experience swelling or other unusual symptoms. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan outlined by your doctor can lower your risk for potential complications including:

  • Amputation

  • Chronic disability

  • Hand deformity

  • Hand weakness

  • Inability to perform daily tasks

  • Poor quality of life

  • Spread of infection to other tissues


  1. Edema. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/edema.html.     
  2. Hand/wrist/arm problems. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/526.html.

What is hand swelling?

Hand swelling is a sign of fluid buildup or inflammation of the tissues or joints of the hand. Hand swelling, which is also called edema, can also result from serious infections, trauma, and other abnormal processes.

Depending on the cause, hand swelling can last for a short time, such as when it occurs during or after exercise. Chronic hand swelling, or swelling that builds up o... Read more about hand swellingintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with hand swelling?

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.

Symptoms that may occur along with hand swelling

Hand swelling may occur with other symptoms including:

Read more about hand swellingsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 2, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles

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