Overview

Having swollen hands is often both annoying and uncomfortable. No one wants to feel like their rings are cutting off their circulation. Swelling, also known as edema, can happen anywhere in the body. It’s commonly seen in the hands, arms, feet, ankles, and legs.

Swelling occurs when extra fluid gets trapped in your body’s tissues. Several things can cause this, including heat, exercise, or medical conditions. While swollen hands usually aren’t anything to worry about, they can sometimes be a sign of an underlying illness that needs treatment.

1. Exercise

Exercising increases blood flow to your heart, lungs, and muscles. It can also reduce blood flow to your hands, making them cooler. Sometimes the blood vessels in your hands will counteract this by opening up, which can make your hands swell.

In addition, exercising makes your muscles produce heat. In response, your body pushes blood toward the vessels closest to your body’s surface to get rid of some of the heat. This process makes you sweat, but it may also cause your hands to swell.

In most cases, swollen hands while exercising aren’t anything to worry about. However, if you’re an endurance athlete, it could be a sign of hyponatremia. This refers to having low levels of sodium in your blood. If you have hyponatremia, you’ll likely experience nausea and confusion as well.

Here are a few steps you can take to reduce swelling in your hands while exercising:

  • Remove all your jewelry before exercising.
  • Do arm circles while exercising.
  • Expand your fingers and clench them into a fist repeatedly while exercising.
  • Elevate your hands after exercising.

2. Hot weather

When you’re suddenly exposed to unusually hot temperatures, your body may struggle to cool itself down. Normally, your body pushes warm blood toward the surface of your skin, where it cools down by sweating. On hot and humid days, this process may not work properly. Instead, fluid might accumulate in your hands instead of evaporating through sweat.

Other symptoms of extreme heat exposure include:

  • rash
  • increased body temperature
  • dizziness or fainting
  • confusion

It may take your body a few days to acclimate to hot weather. Once it does, your swelling should go away. You can also try using a fan or dehumidifier for relief.

3. Too much salt

Your body maintains a delicate balance of salt and water that’s easy to disrupt. Your kidneys filter your blood all day long, pulling out toxins and unwanted fluid and sending them to your bladder.

Eating too much salt makes it harder for your kidneys to remove unwanted fluid. This allows fluid to build up in your system, where it may collect in certain areas, including your hands.

When fluid builds up, your heart works harder to circulate blood, which increases blood pressure. High blood pressure puts extra pressure on your kidneys and prevents them from filtering fluid.

Following a low-sodium diet can help restore the proper balance.

4. Lymphedema

Lymphedema is swelling caused by a buildup of lymph fluid. This condition is most common among people who’ve had their lymph nodes removed or damaged during cancer treatment.

If you’ve had lymph nodes removed from your armpit during breast cancer treatment, you have a higher risk of developing lymphedema in your hands months or years after treatment. This is known as secondary lymphedema.

You can also be born with primary lymphedema, though it’s more common to have it in your legs than your arms.

Other symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • swelling and aching in the arm or hand
  • a heavy feeling in the arm
  • numbness in the arm or hand
  • skin feels tight or taut on the arm
  • jewelry seems to be too tight
  • decreased ability to flex or move your arm, hand, or wrist

While there’s no cure for lymphedema, lymphatic drainage massage can help to reduce swelling and prevent fluid from building up.

5. Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a condition that can affect pregnant women in their third trimester. It often involves dangerously high blood pressure levels that lead to preterm birth.

A certain amount of swelling is expected during pregnancy, especially in your hands and feet. However, a sudden increase in blood pressure due to preeclampsia can cause fluid retention and rapid weight gain. If you’re pregnant and experience any of the following symptoms with swollen hands, contact your doctor immediately:

  • abdominal pain
  • severe headaches
  • seeing spots
  • a change in reflexes
  • urinating less or not at all
  • blood in the urine
  • dizziness
  • excessive vomiting and nausea

6. Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that affects people who have psoriasis. Psoriasis is a skin condition marked by red patches of scaly skin. Most people are diagnosed with psoriasis first, but it’s possible for arthritis symptoms to begin before skin symptoms appear.

Psoriatic arthritis can affect any part of your body. It often tends to affect your fingers, toes, feet, and lower back. Your fingers, in particular, can become extremely swollen and “sausage-like.” You might also notice swelling in your fingers before any signs of joint pain.

Other symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include:

  • joints that are painful and swollen
  • joints that are warm to the touch
  • pain in the back of your heel or sole of your foot
  • lower back pain

There’s no cure for psoriatic arthritis. Treatment focuses on managing pain and inflammation, usually through nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or steroid injections.

7. Angioedema

Angioedema is caused by an allergic reaction to something you came in contact with. During an allergic reaction, histamine and other chemicals are released into your bloodstream. This can cause sudden swelling underneath your skin, either with or without hives. It usually affects your lips and eyes, but can also show up in your hands, feet, and throat.

Angioedema is very similar to hives, but it happens just beneath your skin’s surface. Other symptoms include:

  • large, thick, firm welts
  • swelling and redness
  • pain or warmth in the affected areas
  • swelling in the lining of the eye

Angioedema usually goes away on its own. Its symptoms can also be treated with oral antihistamines.

The bottom line

Swollen hands can be uncomfortable, but they’re usually nothing to worry about. Try making a few lifestyle changes and see if that helps. If you’re pregnant or have had lymph nodes previously removed, talk to your doctor. You may have preeclampsia or lymphedema.