Swelling happens when body fluids collect in tissues or joints. Sometimes your pinkie might be puffy. Or you may have trouble slipping your rings on and off. A salty meal could be one culprit. That’s usually not a cause for worry. But other times, your swollen fingers and hands can signal a health problem that needs your attention.
Exercise and Heat
Your heart, lungs, and muscles need oxygen to fuel your workout. So, more blood goes to those places and less flows to your hands. Small blood vessels react to this change and expand, and that swells your fingers. Something similar happens when your body heats up in hot weather. To cool down, blood vessels in your skin swell to allow heat to leave the surface. This is totally normal.
You may have a torn a ligament or sprained your finger. Or injured a tendon, or dislocated or even broken a bone. If the injury isn’t too bad, ice, rest, and over-the counter pain medicine may be enough. See your doctor if you can’t straighten your finger, have a fever, or you’re in great pain.
Three that can cause swollen fingers are:
- Herpetic whitlow: A herpes infection that causes small, swollen, bloody blisters on the fingers
- Paronychia: An infection in the nail base caused by bacteria or fungus
- Felon: A painful pus-filled infection in the fingertip
Finger infections can spread or other parts of the body if they’re not treated early.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects the lining of joints and causes swelling, pain, and stiffness. The symptoms often appear first in the hand joints. RA usually affects both hands
Psoriatic arthritis can affect people who have a skin condition called psoriasis. It often causes sausage-like swelling in fingers and toes. Both arthritis types are serious and can cause joint damage and other body problems without treatment.
This “rich man’s disease” largely used to afflict people who could afford lots of meat, seafood, and alcohol. Today, gout can hit people of all income levels. It causes extreme pain and swelling, usually in the big toe. But you can get it in any joint, including your fingers. It happens when too much uric acid in your blood forms crystals in the joint. Drugs can help ease the pain and prevent more attacks.
Some common culprits include:
- Over-the-counter pain pills like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen
- Certain drugs for diabetes or high blood pressure
- Nerve pain drugs like gabapentin and pregabalin
- Hormonal therapies with estrogen or testosterone
Puffy fingers from medication usually isn’t a serious condition. But talk to your doctor if you’re worried.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
This is a pinched nerve in a place in your wrist called the carpal tunnel. Some people say their fingers feel useless and swollen, even if they may not look it. You may feel pain, tingling, or numbness, too. Making the same hand motions over and over can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. It can be treated and usually doesn’t do lasting damage.
This is when your finger snaps like the sound of a trigger when you bend or straighten it. Your finger may be puffy, too. Trigger finger happens when there’s swelling around a tendon, sometimes after surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s more common in people with RA or diabetes. Trigger finger may get better on its own. But if it gets worse, it can get stuck in a bent position. Ask your doctor if you need treatment.
Your kidneys get rid of waste and extra fluid from your body. One of the first signs that something is wrong is puffiness in your fingers, feet, and around your eyes. You’re more likely to get kidney disease if you have diabetes or high blood pressure. Control these problems to protect your kidneys or stop the disease from getting worse. If your kidneys don’t work well enough, you’ll need a transplant or dialysis.
You can expect swollen fingers, ankles, and feet when you’re expecting. But sudden swelling, especially in the hands and face, can be a sign of preeclampsia. That’s dangerously high blood pressure that can happen in the second half of pregnancy. Rarely, it comes after childbirth and is called postpartum preeclampsia. The problem affects the kidneys, triggering swelling. You may also have a bad headache, belly pain, and trouble seeing.
Sickle Cell Disease
Normal red blood cells look like doughnuts and are flexible. When you have sickle cell disease, the cells are stiff and crescent-shaped. These get stuck in small blood vessels and block blood flow. In the hands and feet, this causes painful swelling. Other problems include infections, anemia, stroke, and blindness. Sickle cell is a lifelong condition. In the U.S., it’s most common in African-Americans.
This swelling happens when fluid in the lymph system can’t drain well. It’s sometimes a side effect of cancer treatment. Women with breast cancer often have lymph nodes in their armpits removed to check for cancer. This upsets the flow of lymph and can lead to swelling in the arms and hands. Radiation can damage nodes and make the problem worse. Lymphedema can happen any time after treatment. It can’t be cured, but it can be managed.
Raynaud's Disease is a rare problem that affects blood vessels in your fingers and toes. It causes them to narrow when you’re cold or stressed. Lack of blood flow makes your digits frosty and painful. They may turn white or blue. When the vessels open up and blood returns, your fingers can throb and swell. In serious cases, lack of blood flow can cause sores or even kill tissue.
This is an immune system disease that tricks your body into making too much of a protein called collagen. This thickens and hardens skin and can affect other body parts too. Your hands may become stiff and your fingers may puff up like sausages. Some people have mild symptoms. In more serious cases, organs can be injured. Scleroderma does not go away but can be treated.