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Why Do My Hands Swell?

You wake up ready to start your day and grab your toothbrush. Your fingers feel tight and stiff as you try to open your toothpaste. 

Holding your toothbrush or making a fist is nearly impossible due to the swelling in your hand. The joints in your fingers feel sore and tender from the increased fluid.

There can be numerous reasons why you experience swelling in your hands. It can occur every morning or be more intermittent depending on whether you indulged in chips and salsa with a margarita the night before. Not that I’m speaking from experience…ok maybe I am!

What Is Swelling?

It's a buildup of inflammation or fluid around the tissues or joints of the hand.

Swelling in your hand can be a common, natural response especially if you have sustained an injury. However, excessive swelling can be more concerning because it can be an indicator of a more serious condition. Complications can include limited mobility, which could lead to severe deformities of the finger joints in your hand.

Whatever the reason, as always, it is important to speak with your physician to determine the cause of your swelling.

First, let’s address a few minor reasons as to why your hands swell.

Heat and Humidity

As the temperature rises on hot summer days so can the swelling of your hands. This occurs due to the increased blood flow from temperature regulation.

Increased Salt Intake

Eating salty popcorn before bed or going out to your favorite restaurant and indulging in a saltier dish can cause you to retain fluid.

Alcohol

Alcohol is a diuretic, causing you to urinate fluids faster. Therefore drinking alcoholic beverages can dehydrate you. When your body senses it is losing too much fluid it hangs on to the fluid it has, causing fluid retention.

Excessive Caffeine Consumption

Caffeine is a mild diuretic and can also lead to mild dehydration and fluid retention. (However, the jury is still out on this one.)

Pregnancy

This could be major or minor depending on the circumstances. Pregnancy can cause minor swelling in the hands from the additional blood and fluid needed to soften the body and prepare for birth. However, excessive swelling in pregnancy can be a serious condition called Preeclampsia.

Now, if you have eliminated these minor causes and continue to have swelling there could be a bigger reason why you have not been able to see a difference in your swelling.

Here are a few MAJOR causes of swelling:

Severe Injury

Anyone sustaining an injury, fall, or accident and the result is a swollen, painful hand needs to see a Hand Surgeon or Orthopedic Surgeon to rule out anything serious.

Often a broken bone, fracture, or contusion can lead to persistent swelling in the hand and potentially lead to deformities if not treated.

Repetitive Motion

By frequently grasping or pinching objects, using scissors, typing, or performing other repetitive motions; you could be causing stress to the hand or fingers. This is known as repetitive motion disorders and can be the cause of inflammation, swelling, and pain.

This can lead to conditions such as tendonitis, carpal tunnel, trigger finger, and others. These conditions often require surgery if not treated.

Autoimmune Disorders

Degenerative, inflammatory, or autoimmune conditions such as Cellulitis (Skin infection), Ganglion cysts, Infections, Osteoarthritis or Rheumatoid arthritis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, and Psoriatic arthritis can cause hand swelling. See a Rheumatologist to determine if you fall into this category.

Obesity

Hypothyroidism

A deficiency in which the thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Early signs can be swollen hands and feet.

Lymphatic Obstruction

A blockage of the lymphatic nodes or vessels leading to lymphedema.

Hyponatremia

Extremely low sodium

Gout

Form of arthritis caused by excess uric acid.

Medications

Many medications are ridden with side effects; hand swelling is one of them. The most common medications known for its hand swelling side effects are, but not limited to:
Antidepressants (Tricyclic’s and MAO inhibitors)
Diabetes medications
Hormone therapy
Steroids

Above all, I can’t say enough regarding how important it is to address any hand swelling concerns with your doctor. 

The longer your hands swell, the more likely you are to have limited mobility, contractures, and deformities of your fingers. More importantly, your hands could be giving you warning signs of more serious conditions.

You should seek immediate medical care if you have:
Sudden onset of swelling in the hand accompanied with a high fever (over 101 F)
Your hand is red, feels hot or significantly warmer than normal
Unexplained weight gain

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