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Swollen arms and hands (oedema)

Swelling in the arms or hands (oedema) 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.

It's usually caused by:

  • 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

It can also be caused by:

Check if you have oedema

Symptoms of oedema include:

The inside of 2 white arms, from wrist to elbow. 1 arm is swollen, so it looks much bigger and the skin is stretched tight.
Swollen or puffy arms or hands.
A swollen white hand that looks puffy. The skin is stretched and shiny, especially across the top of the hand and knuckles.
Shiny, stretched skin.

How to ease swelling yourself

Swelling in your arms or hands 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

  • put your hands in a bath of warm water and then cold water to help move the fluid away from the area

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:

  • your arm or hand is swollen and it has not improved after treating it at home for a few days
  • the swelling gets worse
Information:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) 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 COVID-19

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • you have swelling in only 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 arm or hand is swollen and your temperature is very high, or you feel hot and shivery
  • you have diabetes and your arm or hand is swollen

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

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

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

Possible treatments include:

  • changing your medicine if this is the cause of the swelling
  • treating any condition that is causing the swelling
  • diuretics (water pills) to help reduce the swelling
  • wearing special gloves or sleeves to stop any swelling from coming back (compression aids)

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

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Page last reviewed: 02 March 2022
Next review due: 02 March 2025