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Swollen fingers and water retention: causes explained

Siski Green / 06 October 2015 ( 11 June 2019 )

There are all kinds of reasons why your fingers might swell up, some more serious than others. Find out what it could mean.

Salty foods such as olives and cheese
Foods such as olives contain hidden salt, which could be contributing to'puffiness'.

If the rings on your fingers suddenly feel tighter than usual or if you’ve noticed them being snugger over a period of time, there’s no need to panic. However, swollen fingers can be the result of some serious illnesses so it’s worth knowing the causes.

Unlimited access to a qualified GP with Saga Health Insurance - you'll have access 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to a GP consultation service. Find out more about our GP phone service.

How food can make you puffy

If you’ve been tucking into crisps or other salty foods, that could be to blame. When you eat a lot of salt, your body retains more water making you ‘puffy’.

This can mean swollen ankles or swollen fingers, and even bloating too. Be aware too of foods that hide high salt content, such as soya sauce, salad dressings and olives.

Our diet expert, Judith Wills, on the effects of salt

10 signs you're eating too much salt

How heat can affect water retention

If you’ve been lucky enough to enjoy warm weather recently, this can trigger water retention too.

It’s thought that this is the result of the body trying to cool down which it does by dilating (increasing the size of) blood vessels to allow more blood through, which creates a larger surface area and therefore more heat loss.

However, your body may overreact and dilate blood vessels too much, resulting in fingers that are full of liquid and swollen. 

Find out how to reduce water retention

10 natural diuretics

Gravity and swollen fingers

Gravity can be blamed for so many things – sagging body parts, wrinkles and even swollen fingers!

Why certain medications may be linked to swelling

Some medications, such as high-blood pressure drugs, for example, may trigger water retention and therefore swollen fingers or other extremities too. Check with your GP to find out whether your medication could be the cause.

Learn more about medicines for high blood pressure

Want to talk to a GP today? With Saga Health Insurance, you have unlimited access to a qualified GP 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Find out more about our GP phone service.

Injury and swollen fingers

If you’ve sprained or strained your finger muscles, your body may respond by sending more blood to the area so it can heal. This can result in swelling.

Warning: it’s important to note that swelling around an injury that has been, or is, bleeding could be the result of a blood infection (sepsis). Along with swelling around the injury site, you may note redness as well as pain or tenderness, and also a smelly discharge from the wound itself. As sepsis progresses you may experience fever and fast breathing, for example. See your doctor immediately if you suspect an infection in an injury like this as it can be very serious if not treated quickly with antibiotics.

Exercise and puffy fingers

Puffy fingers are commonly a side-effect of physical activity. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why this happens but they’ve got theories as to how it might occur.

For example, as blood flow increases to certain parts of your body to ensure your muscles get enough oxygen, blood flow to your hands actually decreases. This decrease would cause them to cool. As the blood vessels cool, they respond by opening wider to allow more blood to flow in, which makes your fingers swell.

Or it could be that as your body heats up, blood vessels at the skin’s surface expand to allow more heat to dissipate – it could be that your body overreacts, expanding the blood vessels too much, and as a result you get swollen fingers. 

Could your hands be showing signs of underlying conditions?

Arthritis and swollen joints

If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, you’ll likely know that swollen joints and especially fingers can be a symptom of the illness. But for many people swollen fingers can be the first sign.

This is a result of the synovial fluid and bloodflow in the joint increasing in volume, which makes your fingers feel fatter. It can also make the area feel warm.

If you experience this kind of swelling several times in a month and lasts for more than three days, you should see your GP.

Find out more about arthritis

Want to talk to a GP today? With Saga Health Insurance, you have unlimited access to a qualified GP 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Find out more about our GP phone service.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.