Swollen Arm – Causes of Swelling of Hand, Forearm, Fingers (2022)

Swelling of the arm is an indication of inflammation or disturbances of blood or lymph flow causing a swollen appearance of the upper arm, forearm, hand or fingers. It rarely occurs on both sides at the same time. A sweollen arm is not always a cause for concern. Most cases are acute and quickly resolve on its own with no further problems. However, at other times the arm swelling can be a sign of serious conditions which needs prompt medical attention.

Why does the arm swell?

Swelling anywhere in the body is due to fluid accumulation. This fluid may be tissue fluid or blood. Normally there is a constant inflow and outflow of these fluids. However, when there is inflammation then more fluid flows in to the arm and this fluid accumulates in the tissue spaces. This causes swelling of the arm. Inflammation is the mechanism by which the body protects against tissue damage. It does not only occur in the arm.

Another reason for swelling is where blood accumulates in the tissue spaces. This may be seen as a red to purple bruising if it occurs under the skin. It signals a break in a blood vessel that allows the blood to flow out of the artery or vein. Similarly blood is constantly drained out of the arm through the veins. However, if the vein is blocked then the blood can accumulate in the arm and cause it to become swollen.

(Video) SWOLLEN HAND?? Reduce EDEMA in 10 minutes or LESS!

Lastly is the lymphathic fluid that can also accumulate and cause arm swelling. Lymphatic fluid is the excess tissue fluid that does not drain away into the veins. It is then drawn out of the tissue spaces and into the lymphatic vessels. Lymph nodes along the course of these lymphatic fluids then helps to filter the fluid. Finally the lymphatic fluid from the arm is emptied into a vein. However, if the lymphatic vessel or lymph node is blocked then swelling can occur.

Swollen Arm – Causes of Swelling of Hand, Forearm, Fingers (1)

Causes of a Swollen Arm

A swollen arm may be caused by a number of factors or predisposing conditions.

(Video) How to Reduce Hand/Wrist Swelling

  • Inflammation due to trauma (blunt force), injury (broken bones), overuse and exertion, toxins (poisonous substances, insect or snake bites), burns, allergies or chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome and gout .
  • Lymphedema which is accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the arm. This is often associated with a swollen lymph node (lymphadenopathy).
  • Infection – virus, bacteria, protozoa or fungi. Localized infection of the fingers, hand or forearm or a widespread infection of the arm as in cellulitis.
  • Venous insufficiency are circulatory disorders due to chronic conditions (cardiac, peripheral vascular disease), injury to the vein or obstructed blood flow through the arm veins.
  • Blood clots can occur inside arteries or veins anywhere in the body, including the arm. A clot can occur after blood samples are taken from the arm or an intravenous (IV) drip was in place.
  • Fat accumulation due to hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome or just general weight gain may cause swollen arms although this fat deposition is gradual and evident throughout the body.

Swollen Arm – Causes of Swelling of Hand, Forearm, Fingers (2)

Symptoms with Swollen Arm

The swelling of the arm may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms which may assist with diagnosing the cause of the swollen arm. It is difficult to identify a causative factor for a swollen arm solely on the swelling itself. The swollen arm should be assessed in conjunction with swelling throughout the body (generalized) or in specific areas (localized).

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Swelling of the arm due to edema (in most cases) may be pitting (finger pressure leaves an impression on the swelling for a few seconds to minutes) or non-pitting edema. Pitting edema is usually indicative of a circulatory disorder while non-pitting edema may be an indication of a more localized cause like an injury, insect bite or an infection of the arm. It may only involve one arm (nilateral swelling) or both arms (bilateral swelling).

  • Arm pain.
  • Numbness or tingling of the arm.
  • Itchy arm may also be experienced with or without an evident rash.
  • Redness or paleness of the arm.
  • Excessive warmth (heat) or cold and clammy skin.
  • Muscle weakness which is reduced muscle strength or difficulty in moving the arm or complete loss of movement of the hand, forearm or fingers.

Treatment of Arm Swelling

It is important to take note of causative or aggravating factors in repeated episodes of arm swelling. A swollen arm may or may not be accompanied by other signs and symptoms and these concomitant symptoms should be reported to the attending practitioner when seeking medical attention.

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Most importantly, it is advisable to take note if your swelling is one sided (unilateral) or of both arms (bilateral) as this may indicate a localized or generalized nature of the condition. If you are unsure of the cause of acute swelling, always immobilize your arm and seek medical attention immediately.

  • Treatment depends on the cause of the inflammation, lymphedema, infection or venous insufficiency that is causing the swelling of the arm. Fat accumulation is usually gradual and gives the appearance of a swollen arm but is not a true swelling of the limb.
  • Swelling of the fingers may likely be due to conditions like arthritis (more commonly rheumatoid arthritis) or gout (less common) and treatment should be directed at the cause of the joint swelling.
  • It is not advisable to use a cold application such as an ice pack or immersing the hand in ice water if a swelling is noticed without identifying the cause. Cold therapy may only be useful in cases of blunt trauma immediately after the injury.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs may be useful in reducing swelling due to inflammation as well as easing any associated pain.
  • Anti-histamines and corticosteroids may assist with swelling due to allergies or insect bites. In the event of a snake bite, seek immediate medical attention as the arm swelling may be accompanied by necrosis (tissue death). More importantly, snake venom will eventually enter the systemic circulation and can cause death.
  • Certain circulatory disorders may have serious underlying pathologies including cardiovascular disease like congestive cardiac failure, kidney failure, liver failure, aneurysms and thrombosis. These conditions need to be identified and treated accordingly.
  • Fractures (broken bones) within the arm, hand or fingers will cause swelling and severe pain upon movement. Immediate medical attention is required to prevent long term complications.
  • Inform your supervising practitioner of any medication that you may be using. Anabolic steroids (used by athletes and body builders) and certain anti-hypertensive drugs may cause arm swelling.

When is arm swelling not serious?

While a swollen arm is a non-specific symptom, it should not be ignored especially in repeat cases. If the arm is turning blue or if there is a complete loss of sensation or movement, medical attention is required immediately even if this is episodic.

  • Swelling of the arm after weight training or other weight bearing exercise targeting the area is common. This is not a cause for concern unless the swelling persists or is accompanied by other signs and symptoms.
  • If you are experiencing repeat episodes of swelling and your medical practitioner has not identified any serious pathology, it is not advisable to wear tight bands, wrist watches or finger rings as this will further slow down the flow of blood or lymph.
  • Nail biters do occasionally suffer with swelling of the fingers if infection sets in (paronychia) as the mouth is laden with bacteria that will quickly infect the affected area.
  • Swelling of the arms may be common in pregnant women and are not a cause for concern.
  • Slight swelling may also occur in heat and summer months which is not serious.
  • Deep massage or manual lymph drainage as practiced in some therapeutic massage practices is not advisable for a swollen arm. The causative factor of the swelling should always be identified first and a massage can aggravate the condition.

References:

(Video) How to Remove Swelling in the Hands

  1. Why are my hands swollen? HealthLine.com
  2. Hand swelling during exercise. Mayo Clinic

Reviewed and updated on 12 August 2018.

FAQs

What causes swelling in hand and forearm? ›

Common causes of swollen arms and hands

staying in the same position for too long. eating too much salty food. being pregnant. taking certain medicines – such as some blood pressure medicines, contraceptive pills, antidepressants and steroids.

What causes swollen hands and fingers? ›

Potential causes include arthritis, exercise, high salt levels, allergic reactions, medication side effects, and injury. Dehydration is not typically a cause of swollen fingers; rather, excess fluid intake can potentially lead to swelling.

What is the cause of swollen arms? ›

Swelling of one arm is typically caused by a local problem since systemic diseases associated with swelling will affect both arms and likely other parts of the body. Unilateral arm swelling can result from a problem with venous or lymphatic drainage; a local infection or inflammatory reaction; or an injury.

What medical condition causes swollen hands? ›

Arthritis is a leading cause of swollen hands and fingers. It is an inflammation in the joints, and causes swelling and pain. As swelling and joint inflammation worsen, using the hands can become more difficult. Types of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout.

Can high blood pressure cause swollen hands? ›

High blood pressure can damage the small blood vessels in your kidneys and stop them from working properly. This can cause a number of symptoms, including: tiredness. swollen ankles, feet or hands (due to water retention)

What cancers cause edema? ›

Some types of cancer, like kidney, liver, and ovarian cancers, are more likely to cause edema. Chemotherapy. Some types of chemotherapy, including cisplatin and docetaxel (Taxotere), can cause edema.

Can heart problems cause your hands to swell? ›

Fluid buildup in the feet and legs, known as pedal edema, is a common early sign of heart failure. But there are other types of edema that may be the result of heart failure, including: Peripheral edema: swelling of the the hands or lower legs. Pitting edema: swelling in the feet, legs, or anywhere else.

How do I get rid of swelling in my hands? ›

How to Get Rid of Swollen Fingers
  1. Keep your hand/arm elevated. If you keep your hand down, gravity is keeping the extra fluid in your hand. ...
  2. Apply ice to the affected area.
  3. Wear a splint or compressive wrap. Do not apply too tightly. ...
  4. Take anti inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen.
May 25, 2020

How do I reduce swelling? ›

Cold applied immediately after an injury can help manage the pain and reduce swelling because it restricts blood flow to the area and decelerates cellular metabolism. Most people can use a bag of ice or an ice pack, though ice baths, cold therapy systems, and cryotherapy can all help as well.

How do I reduce swelling in my hands and arms? ›

Ice cubes in a zipper-lock bag or a bag of frozen veggies will work, too. The effect is the same: Cold helps lessen swelling. Wrap a thin towel around the pack so it doesn't irritate your skin. Put it on your hand for 10 minutes, then 10 minutes off, and another 10 minutes on.

What causes swelling in arms and legs? ›

Although edema can affect any part of your body, you may notice it more in your hands, arms, feet, ankles and legs. Edema can be the result of medication, pregnancy or an underlying disease — often congestive heart failure, kidney disease or cirrhosis of the liver.

When should you worry about swelling? ›

When to Seek Care for Swelling. You should seek emergency care if you have sudden, unexplained swelling in just one limb or if it occurs along with chest pain, trouble breathing, coughing up blood, fever, or skin that is red and warm to the touch.

What is normal blood pressure for a 70 year old? ›

Normal blood pressure for most adults is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80.

How do I stop my hands from swelling at night? ›

Remedies to Swollen Hands in the Morning
  1. Ice your hands.
  2. Raise your hands up above your heart for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Do some hand exercises to get the muscles moving.
  4. Give yourself a hand massage.
  5. Drink lots of water throughout the day.
  6. Reduce your alcohol intake.
  7. Practice proper sleep posture.
  8. Take anti-inflammatory medicines.
Nov 10, 2015

Does edema mean end of life? ›

Oedema can happen if someone has a specific condition, like chronic heart failure, kidney failure, or liver disease. But it can happen to any patient at the end of their life as their body begins to shut down.

What is life expectancy with lymphedema? ›

The life expectancy of a patient with this condition is limited to a few months to 2 years [6], [7]. Currently, the mechanism underlying the onset of lymphedema is unknown, and a treatment has yet to be established for preventing the onset of this disease.

What is the best medication for edema? ›

More-severe edema may be treated with drugs that help your body expel excess fluid in the form of urine (diuretics). One of the most common diuretics is furosemide (Lasix).

What are the signs that your heart is not working properly? ›

Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina) Shortness of breath. Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of your body are narrowed. Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back.

How do I know if my heart is OK? ›

An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a test that records the electrical activity of the heart. The ECG reflects what's happening in different areas of the heart and helps identify any problems with the rhythm or rate of your heart. The ECG is painless and takes around 5-10 minutes to perform.

How do I reduce swelling in my hands and wrists? ›

Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation

After that, switching to a heating pad may increase blood flow to the injured area and speed healing. Elevating the hand while resting can reduce swelling, and compressing the affected area with an elastic bandage can support the hand while it hand heals.

What antibiotics treat swelling? ›

Analgesics can help to control pain in patients with lymphangitis, and anti-inflammatory medications can help to reduce inflammation and swelling. Antibiotics, including the following, can be used in the treatment of group A beta-hemolytic streptococci (GABHS) and S aureus infections: Dicloxacillin. Cephalexin.

What naturally reduces swelling? ›

Some of the best sources of omega-3s are cold water fish, such as salmon and tuna, and tofu, walnuts, flax seeds and soybeans. Other anti-inflammatory foods include grapes, celery, blueberries, garlic, olive oil, tea and some spices (ginger, rosemary and turmeric).

What causes the body to swell? ›

Body parts swell from injury or inflammation. It can affect a small area or the entire body. Medications, pregnancy, infections, and many other medical problems can cause edema. Edema happens when your small blood vessels leak fluid into nearby tissues.

What does a swollen forearm mean? ›

Most commonly, a swollen forearm can be caused by insect bite or exposure to certain plants. Forearm swelling with pain can be caused by trauma from an injury. Read below for more information on causes and treatment options.

Can arthritis cause swelling? ›

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause pain, swelling and deformity. As the tissue that lines your joints (synovial membrane) becomes inflamed and thickened, fluid builds up and joints erode and degrade.

What does a swollen forearm mean? ›

Most commonly, a swollen forearm can be caused by insect bite or exposure to certain plants. Forearm swelling with pain can be caused by trauma from an injury. Read below for more information on causes and treatment options.

How do I reduce swelling in my forearm? ›

Resting your forearm can usually help to reduce the degree of inflammation. Icing the affected area with a cloth-covered ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes at a time may also help to reduce swelling.

How do I get rid of swelling in my hands? ›

How to Get Rid of Swollen Fingers
  1. Keep your hand/arm elevated. If you keep your hand down, gravity is keeping the extra fluid in your hand. ...
  2. Apply ice to the affected area.
  3. Wear a splint or compressive wrap. Do not apply too tightly. ...
  4. Take anti inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen.
May 25, 2020

How do you get rid of swollen hands fast? ›

Most people can use a bag of ice or an ice pack, though ice baths, cold therapy systems, and cryotherapy can all help as well. The cold can be applied throughout the day for no more than 30 minutes at a time, which should help the swelling clear up quickly.

Videos

1. Hand Swelling Home Remedy| What to do when Hand Swells
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2. How to Reduce Arm Swelling - Top 5 Ways to Get Rid of Hand or Arm Lymphedema
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3. Diet changes in patients who have inflammation and their hands | Dr. Brutus, Hand Surgeon
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4. How to REDUCE Hand Swelling
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5. Arthritis Of The Fingers - Everything You Need To Know - Dr. Nabil Ebraheim
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