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Swollen arms and hands (oedema)

Swelling in the arms or hands often goes away on its own. See a GP if it does not get better in a few days.

Common causes of swollen arms and hands

Swelling in the arms and hands is often caused by a build-up of fluid in these areas, called oedema.

Oedema is usually caused by:

Oedema can also be caused by:

  • an injury – such as a strain or sprain
  • sudden changes in temperature – such as very hot weather
  • an insect bite or sting
  • problems with your kidneys, liver or heart
  • a blood clot
  • an infection

Check if you have oedema

Symptoms of oedema include:

Swollen arm caused by oedema
Swollen or puffy arms or hands
Credit:

DR P. MARAZZI / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

https://www.sciencephoto.com/media/477302/view

Stretched skin on the hand and arm caused by oedema
Shiny, stretched or red skin
Credit:

SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

https://www.sciencephoto.com/media/648284/view

How to ease swelling yourself

Swelling should go away on its own, but there are some things you can try to help.

Do

  • lie down and use pillows to raise the swollen area when you can

  • move your whole arm and shoulder – try raising your hand above your head while you open and close your fist

  • massage your arm or hand towards your body using firm, but not painful, pressure – for example, start at your fingertips and massage towards your palm

  • get some gentle exercise, like walking, to improve your blood flow

  • drink plenty of water

  • wash, dry and moisturise your arms or hands to avoid infections

Don’t

  • do not stay in the same position for long periods of time

  • do not wear clothes that are too tight

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if your arm or hand is swollen and:

  • it has not improved after treating it at home for a few days
  • it gets worse
Information:

Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during coronavirus

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment if:

  • the swelling is only in 1 arm or hand and there's no obvious cause, such as an injury
  • the swelling is severe, painful or starts very suddenly
  • the swollen area is red or feels hot to the touch
  • your temperature is very high, or you feel hot and shivery
  • you have diabetes

Immediate action required: Call 999 if:

  • you feel short of breath or are struggling to breathe
  • your chest feels tight, heavy or painful

You could have a blood clot in your lungs, which needs immediate treatment in hospital.

Treatment for swelling and oedema

Treatment for swelling or oedema that does not go away on its own will depend on the cause.

It may include lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or going on a low-salt diet.

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Page last reviewed: 8 May 2019
Next review due: 8 May 2022