A wide variety of underlying conditions can cause swollen fingers, but many of these aren’t serious. However, when paired with other new or developing symptoms, it may indicate something serious.
Swollen fingers can be an alarming symptom, especially if they’re accompanied by other symptoms such as redness and pain.
In this article, we explore some of the common causes of swollen fingers and discuss when swelling in your fingers might be a cause for concern.
Water retention, sometimes referred to as fluid retention or edema, is one of the most common causes of swollen fingers. There are multiple causes of water retention, from diet to underlying health conditions.
When the body holds onto excess water, it can lead to swollen tissues in the extremities, especially in the fingers. Some other symptoms that may accompany water retention include bloating and puffiness.
Treatment for fluid retention often involves addressing the underlying cause. If you’re experiencing frequent or chronic fluid retention that’s causing your fingers to swell, consider speaking with your doctor to see if there’s an underlying cause.
Fluid retention caused by diet
Eating a diet high in salt can cause the tissues to retain extra water, leading to fluid retention in the fingers, hands, and other areas of the body.
Lowering sodium intake is one of the most common treatments for conditions that cause water retention. In fact, researchers explain that in some cases, sodium restriction and elevation of the extremities is the best treatment option.
Fluid retention from a blockage: lymphedema
Lymphedema is a type of fluid retention that results from a blockage in the lymphatic system. When the lymph nodes cannot circulate lymph fluid properly, this fluid builds up in the extremities.
Lymphedema commonly causes swollen fingers, hands, toes, and feet. Other symptoms of this condition may include:
- discoloration of the skin
- changes in the skin
- blisters and fluid leakage
Treatment of lymphedema includes compression therapy, daily exercise, and lymphatic drainage massage. In extreme cases when the lymphedema is severe, surgery may be necessary.
Fluid retention from an allergic reaction: angioedema
Angioedema is another type of fluid retention that happens when fluid accumulates beneath the skin. Commonly caused by an allergic reaction, angioedema is often accompanied by the presence of large hives.
Although angioedema tends to appear in the face, head, and neck area, it can also cause swelling in the fingers. Other symptoms may include:
- a red rash
- local or body-wide swelling
Antihistamines and steroids are usually the first line of treatment for angioedema, as well as avoiding any triggers.
During a workout, such as running, hiking, or other forms of intense exercise, your body works hard to pump blood to your heart, lungs, and muscles. This directs blood flow away from the blood vessels in the hands, causing them to widen and the fingers to swell.
Swollen fingers after a workout are generally no cause for concern. However, you can reduce this post-exercise symptom by getting the hands and arms moving and making sure that you’re staying hydrated.
Another potential reason for swollen fingers during and after working out or spending time outside in hot weather is increased body heat. In fact, exposure to heat, whether internal or external, can cause something called heat edema.
Heat edema commonly causes swelling in the extremities, especially in the fingers, hands, toes, and feet. While it’s generally not dangerous, it can indicate an imbalance in fluids and electrolytes. In some cases, it can also be linked to another underlying condition.
Luckily, you can reduce heat edema by keeping hydrated and cooling your body temperature back down as soon as possible.
Hormonal changes, especially during menstruation and pregnancy, can cause symptoms such as bloating, swelling, mood changes, and more. These symptoms often occur due to a shift in hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
Swelling of the hands and fingers is a common symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and often appears during pregnancy, as well. Other symptoms of PMS may include:
- abdominal bloating and pain
- tender breasts
- gastrointestinal changes
- nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- trouble sleeping
- mood changes
Treatment for PMS generally involves pain medications to help reduce any pain or tenderness. Getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and practicing stress reduction techniques can also
It is also common to notice swelling in the extremities, including in the fingers and toes, during late pregnancy.
Another potential cause of swollen fingers during pregnancy is a condition called preeclampsia. Preeclampsia often appears in late pregnancy and is characterized by the following symptoms:
- frequent, persistent headaches
- abnormally swollen face or hands
- vision changes
- weight gain
- abdominal pain
Early treatment for preeclampsia is crucial in ensuring a safe pregnancy and delivery. Treatment may include medications, frequent monitoring, or in some cases, early delivery.
Swelling can sometimes occur in the hands and fingers when you wake up in the morning. While this can be caused by another underlying condition, such as arthritis, it can be made worse by certain sleeping positions.
If you’ve noticed that your fingers are frequently swelling in the morning, try these sleeping positions to keep the arms and hands elevated:
- Lying on your back. Use pillows under each arm to elevate your hands. You can even use additional, smaller pillows to raise your hands even further.
- Lying on your side. Use a pillow in front of you to elevate your top arm.
When we injure ourselves, the body produces an inflammatory response at the site of the injury. This inflammation is often indicated by swelling, redness, pain, and other symptoms.
Whether mild or serious, a hand injury can lead to swelling in the fingers, hand, and wrist. Other symptoms of injury and inflammation in the fingers might include:
- pain, especially when moving the fingers
- numbness or tingling
- visible breaks in the skin or bones
If you believe your swollen fingers are due to an injury, and you’re also experiencing the symptoms above, you should see a doctor immediately for medical treatment.
Similar to an injury, the inflammatory response is a necessary part of the healing process when an infection is present. Infections can cause a wide variety of symptoms, depending on the type and severity of the infection.
Infections of the arm and hand can cause swollen fingers, as well as infections in the joints of the fingers. Other signs and symptoms of an infection might include:
- a wound that’s having trouble healing
- swollen lymph nodes
- nausea or vomiting
An infection of the fingers, hand, or any other body part can be serious and require medical attention right away. Treatment may involve medications but ultimately depends on the infection.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve that runs through the center of the hand becomes compressed. This nerve affects feeling in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers.
If you develop carpal tunnel syndrome, you may notice the following symptoms in your hand and wrist:
- tingling or pins and needles
- muscle weakness
Swollen fingers aren’t necessarily a defining symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome. However, according to the
Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that is characterized by pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. The two most common forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Arthritis is commonly found in the joints of the hands, which can cause significant swelling in the fingers. Other symptoms of arthritis may include:
- joint pain
- joint stiffness
- decreased range of motion
- skin redness
- loss of appetite
Treatment of arthritis can include anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and, in some cases, surgery. Eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods can be helpful in keeping inflammation down.
Tendonitis is an inflammatory condition that happens when the tendons become inflamed, leading to swelling, pain, and tenderness. Tendonitis commonly affects the tendons of the shoulders, arms, and legs.
There are three types of tendinitis that can cause swelling in the fingers:
- De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
- trigger finger
- trigger thumb
These types of tendinitis specifically affect the tendons in the fingers.
One of the initial interventions for reducing the pain and swelling associated with tendinitis is cold therapy. Applying ice to the swollen fingers can help to reduce blood flow to the area and reduce pain.
More serious cases of tendinitis usually require medical treatment.
Bursitis is another inflammatory condition. It’s caused by inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that surround the joints. Bursitis tends to affect the larger joints’ bursae, such as those in the legs, arms, or hip.
If the bursae of the fingers become inflamed, it can cause swollen finger joints. Other symptoms of bursitis might include:
- thick bursae
Cold therapy is also helpful in reducing the inflammation and pain from bursitis. Physical therapy and injectable medications may also be used for more chronic cases. In some cases, surgery may be used to drain the inflamed bursae.
Gout is a condition that occurs when high levels of uric acid build up in the body and form crystals in the joints. Normally, the body excretes uric acid in the urine, but decreased kidney function can increase uric acid levels and trigger gout.
Although gout commonly affects the feet, it can also cause swelling and pain in the joints of the fingers. Other symptoms of a gout attack may include:
- extreme pain
- redness and warmth in the skin around the joint
- hard lumps in the joint
Gout generally requires early intervention to prevent it from spreading or becoming chronic. Medications that help reduce pain and lower uric acid levels are often prescribed first.
Sickle cell disease, or sickle cell anemia, is a rare genetic condition that affects red blood cells’ function. This disease causes “sickle” shaped red blood cells, which have trouble circulating properly around the body.
According to the
- frequent infections
Sickle cell disease requires various types of treatment, depending on the severity and progression. However, an increase in fluids may help to at least decrease the swelling in the fingers.
Systemic scleroderma is an autoimmune condition that’s commonly characterized by changes in the skin. It can also cause changes in the connective tissues of the body, as well as the organs.
One of the initial symptoms of scleroderma is swelling of the hands and fingers, especially in the morning after waking up. Other symptoms of scleroderma may include:
- patches of thick, shiny skin
- hair loss
- joint pain
- shortness of breath
- gastrointestinal symptoms
Treatment for finger swelling associated with scleroderma includes frequently exercising the fingers and toes, sometimes with the help of an occupational therapist. Anti-inflammatory medications can also help more severe cases.
In some situations, swollen fingers can appear as a rare symptom in a few conditions.
- Diabetes mellitus. Much of the research on diabetes focuses on symptoms of diabetes in the feet. However, one
reportfrom 2012 mentions a condition called tropical diabetic hand syndrome, which can cause swelling of the fingers due to infection. In this report, two individuals were reported to have swollen fingers resulting from poorly controlled diabetes and a skin infection that became severe.
- Tuberculosis. There are multiple case reports describing swollen fingers as a rare symptom of tuberculosis. In one case study, a 25-year-old man diagnosed with tuberculosis presented with a swollen little finger and a history of frequent chest infections. In another
case report, another 46-year-old man diagnosed with tuberculosis also reported having a swollen little finger.
- Sarcoidosis. According to the literature, the fingers’ swelling may be a rare symptom of an inflammatory condition called sarcoidosis. In a
case studyfrom 2015, an older male with swelling of the middle finger was discovered to have a rare type of this condition called sarcoid tenosynovitis.
- Syphilis. If not treated early, syphilis can progress to a system-wide infection that affects various parts of the body, including the fingers. In 2016, a case study was published that described swelling and pain of the fingers in a 52-year-old male with untreated syphilis.
As you can see above, there are many health conditions that can cause swollen fingers. Most of these reasons, such as heat, exercise, or even hormones, are rarely dangerous. For these types of conditions, simple interventions can help with any swelling or discomfort you might feel in your fingers.
However, if you have chronic swollen fingers that are accompanied by other symptoms, it’s best to visit a doctor. They can help determine if there’s an underlying condition that needs to be addressed.