17 Causes of Swelling in Hands and Feet and How to Treat It

Swelling in the hands and feet shouldn't be a cause for concern in general unless it occurs suddenly and is accompanied by other symptoms.
17 Causes of Swelling in Hands and Feet and How to Treat It

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 24 June, 2022

Inflammation in hands and feet can have different causes. Sometimes it has to do with circulation; other times, it has to do with fluid retention or with movement and postural factors.

The most common occurrence is that it disappears after a reasonable period of time. When this doesn’t occur and the symptom persists, it’s possible that there’s a more complex health problem behind it.

In fact, this condition could be a warning sign of serious conditions, such as heart, kidney, or liver failure. Therefore, swelling in the hands and feet should not be overlooked if it becomes chronic.

The most common causes of swelling in hands and feet

It’s important to be attentive to the evolution of the symptom and consult a doctor if it’s very pronounced or remains for a long time. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the main causes of this condition.

1. A lack of physical activity

A low amount of physical activity leads to slower circulation. This, in turn, makes it more difficult for blood to flow from the arms or legs to the heart. The consequence of this is swelling in the extremities.

2. Swelling in hands and feet: Long journeys

This is another cause of swelling in the hands and feet that is related to the previous point. During long journeys, a person usually remains seated.

This posture causes blood to accumulate in the legs. It also increases the risk of thrombosis.

We think you may be interested in reading this, too: 9 Tips to Naturally Reduce Abdominal Inflammation

3. Pregnancy

It’s very common during pregnancy to have swelling in the hands and feet. This is usually more noticeable in the lower limbs and the swelling is usulaly mild.

This is because the body retains more fluids and produces more blood and different fluids. This is particularly noticeable after the fifth month, and especially at night.

Hinchazón de piernas en el embarazo.
Swelling and fluid retention during pregnancy are due to the physical and metabolic changes of pregnancy. However, it should be monitored to rule out hypertensive disorders.

4. Swelling in hands and feet: Alcohol consumption

Alcohol consumption causes the body to retain more fluids and causes swelling in the feet. Sometimes this even occurs in the hands.

This usually disappears within a few hours. If it occurs very frequently, however, it’s a sign of excessive consumption or a liver, kidney, or heart problem derived from alcoholism.

5. High temperatures as a cause of inflammation in hands and feet.

High temperatures cause the blood vessels to dilate and a greater amount of blood to concentrate in the extremities. The effect is swelling in the hands and feet. If the veins can’t carry blood back to the heart, considerable swelling in the ankles is noticed.

6. Injuries

Injuries to the extremities cause swelling in the affected area. Sprains, strains, or fractures can cause blood to rush to the area where the trauma occurred. The effect is swelling, along with pain.

7. Medications

Among the side effects of some medications is swelling of the hands and feet. The drugs that usually cause it are those containing hormones, steroids, antidepressants, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), antidiabetics, and ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors).

8. Swelling in hands: Fluid retention

Fluid retention occurs when excess fluid is trapped in an area of the body. The immediate effect is swelling of the area.

There’s usually an underlying cause. However, there are also cases of idiopathic punctual fluid retention.

9. Lymphedema

Lymphedema is swelling caused by obstruction of the lymphatic system. This usually means that the lymph nodes have some damage or have been removed for some reason, leading to an interruption of lymph flow.

10. Infections

Infections are also a possible cause of swelling in the hands and feet. This can happen when ther’is a wound, a bite, or a burn and it becomes infected.

11. Swelling in hands and feet: Poor circulatn iodue to atherosclerosis

Poor circulation due to atherosclerosis occurs when the arteries become stiffer and therefore less flexible. Under these conditions, the heart needs to push harder to carry blood throughout the body.

12. Diabetes and its inflammatory effect on the hands and feet

Diabetes often causes inflammation, especially in the feet. However, it can also occur in the hands.

This occurs when glucose levels are not controlled and lead to poor circulation. Often, swelling is accompanied by redness in the fingers.

13. Venous insufficiency

Venous insufficiency occurs when the valves in the veins don’t function properly. As in other cases, the veins fail to carry the blood they receive back to the heart. This is more common in overweight and elderly people.

14. Blood clot

A blood clot forms when blood changes from a liquid to a solid state. It can partially or completely block blood flow and is life-threatening.

The blockage causes swelling, which usually occurs in the legs or feet. However, it can also form in any area of the circulatory system, including the heart.

15. Swelling in hands and feet: Kidney failure

Kidney failure is a disease that occurs when the kidneys don’t function properly. This leads to body fluids not being eliminated properly through urine. It causes swelling in the hands and feet. The face also becomes swollen.

16. Liver failure

Liver failure is a decrease in liver function. It leads to a decrease in albumin, a protein in the blood. It helps to balance the plasma. When it decreases, it causes swelling in the hands and feet.

17. Heart failure

If the heart is not strong enough to pump blood, a condition known as heart failure develops. In these conditions, blood can pool in the arms and legs, causing them to swell. There’s also a feeling of pressure in the chest, shortness of breath, and excessive tiredness.

Enfermedad del corazón causa inflamación en manos y pies.
Heart problems alter circulation and can lead to edema in the extremities.

How to treat swelling in hands and feet

The treatment of this condition will depend on the causes. When the factor that generates this symptom is the lack of movement or the accumulation of liquids, the best thing to do is to elevate your arms and legs for half an hour and repeat this once or twice a day.

Regarding the other causes, the actions that should be carried out are the following:

  • Pregnancy: Don’t stand for long periods of time, wear comfortable shoes, and apply a cold compress to the affected area.
  • Alcohol consumption: Increase your water intake, elevate your feet, or put them in cold water.
  • High temperatures: Immerse your feet in cold water, drink more water, walk more, and elevateyour feet for a few minutes.
  • Injury: The usual protocol is to use rest, ice the area, compress the area, and elevate it.
  • Use of medications: Talk to the doctor to find substitutes for the drugs that are causing problems.
  • Fluid retention: Reduce your salt intake, elevate your feet, and wear compression stockings.
  • Lymphedema: Gentle exercises, compression, lymphatic drainage massage, and complex decongestive therapy.
  • Infections: You can treat mild infections with antiseptics. Consult a physician for more serious infections.
  • Poor circulation: Do physical activity, reduce your salt intake, and follow specific professional indications that your doctor recommends.
  • Diabetes: Take the anti-diabetic drugs prescribed by your doctor or take insulin according to the established guidelines.
  • Venous insufficiency: Do gentle physical activity and elevate your legs.
  • Blood clot: This is an emergency that must be attended to by a doctor.
  • Renal, hepatic, or cardiac insufficiency: A doctor will indicate the appropriate treatment in each case.

Swelling in hands and feet isn’t always serious, but it’s important to be careful

Swelling in hands and feet isn’t usually a  symptom of something serious. However, it also isn’t a condition that should be overlooked, especially if it’s very frequent or lasts more than three days. If so, it’s best to seek medical advice.

The same recommendation applies when swelling in the hands and feet is accompanied by other symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, redness of the skin, coughing, fever, or tingling. It’s also true if the swelling appears suddenly.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • González-Costa, M., & González, A. A. P. (2019). La inflamación desde una perspectiva inmunológica: desafío a la Medicina en el siglo XXl. Revista Habanera de Ciencias Médicas, 18(1), 30-44.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.