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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.

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

Symptoms of oedema include:

Swollen arm caused by oedemaStretched skin on the hand and arm caused by oedema

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

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.