Swollen Fingers or Sausage Fingers (Dactylitis): The Complete Guide

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Swollen Fingers or Sausage Fingers (Dactylitis)

Swollen fingers that resemble sausages can be caused by hot weather, water retention, or an underlying health condition. Thankfully, many of the reasons why fingers appear puffy and bloated are generally quite harmless. However, fingers that have swollen beyond their normal size can cause discomfort, especially if you need to remove rings from your fingers.

The medical name for swollen, puffy fingers is dactylitis and the condition is also referred to as sausage fingers. Because we use our fingers so much during the day, they are prone to injury, infection, or strain. This can result in your fingers becoming bloated and uncomfortable and make gripping objects difficult. Also, inflammation, increased blood flow, or an allergic reaction can puff up your fingers and hands.

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In this guide to swollen fingers, I will look at what medical research says about reasons why your fingers resemble sausages. You will also find out practical home remedies to help reduce swelling in bulging fingers.

Symptoms of Swollen Fingers

It is very rare that a person experiences fingers swelling for no reason. In most cases, there will be other symptoms accompanying swollen hands that can help to diagnose the reason. Some of the symptoms of swollen fingers can include:

  • Waking up with swollen hands in the morning along with joint pain in your knuckles
  • Tingling or numbness in one or more fingers
  • Skin that appears bluish-purple or red
  • Difficulty gripping objects because your fingers have swollen like sausages
  • The skin on your hands and fingers feels tight and warm
  • Pressing the swollen area leaves a dent in the skin

Causes of Swollen Fingers

Let’s look in more detail at the reasons why your fingers appear bloated and swollen.

Injury to fingers or hands

The most common reason for just one finger swelling or a few fingers swelling is an injury to your finger or hand.

The journal Sports Health reports that the finger joints are very susceptible to sprain injuries. This can happen by “jamming” the tip of the finger against a hard object. Or, damage to the tendon can result from a ring getting caught and pulled sharply (a jersey finger). The result is pain and swelling of the injured finger. Depending on the severity of the injury, it may be impossible to bend the finger without intense pain.1

Shutting your finger in a door or another traumatic injury to your hand can result in significant finger swelling. The journal Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine reports that tenderness, swelling of the damaged finger, bruising, and bleeding can occur if any of the hand digits have been fractured.2

Repetitive strain syndrome

Carrying out repetitive tasks with your fingers can result in puffy fingers and a possibility of joint and knuckle inflammation.

Doctors from the National Health Service report that repetitive strain injuries (RSI) can result in a number of conditions that cause stiff, swollen fingers. For example, some conditions that RSIs can cause your fingers to swell can include:

Tendonitis. Inflammation and swelling of a tendon in your finger can result in a puffed-up finger that is worse in the morning. This can also cause extreme pain in the finger, especially when trying to straighten the finger.3

Overusing one or more fingers can result in swelling of joints on your hand. Bursitis can also cause your fingers to feel more painful at night and have red or bluish skin around the affected area.4

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Carpal tunnel syndrome. Tingling and pain in your hand along with swelling in your wrist could be a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome. According to Dr. Carol DerSarkissian, carpal tunnel syndrome may make your fingers feel swollen even though they don’t look puffy.5

Too much salt in diet

Eating a salty meal may mean that you wake up with swollen hands in the morning or notice swelling in your fingers and face.

Although some types of salt actually have many health benefits when taken in moderation, doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that too much salt in your diet can cause your body to retain fluid (edema). This gets trapped in your body’s tissues and can make your fingers, hands, feet, and ankles appear puffy. Edema can cause your skin to appear stretched and shiny. You may notice that a dimple is left for a few seconds on your swollen skin if you press the area.6

Hot weather

Your fingers may swell up in hot weather, making it difficult to remove rings or other jewelry.

Doctors from the National Health Service explain that the reason for fingers and hands swelling in hot climates is due to increased blood circulation. The increased blood supply in your body’s extremities causes extra fluid to stay in the tissues which results in fingers having a puffy-look. Usually, finger swelling due to heat reduces without treatment when your body acclimatizes properly.7

In hot weather, it’s very important to increase your fluid intake to prevent the consequences of dehydration.

Exercising

Some people experience swelling in their fingers during physical exercise or after completing a workout.

According to Dr. Edward R. Laskowski, a specialist in sports injuries and rehabilitation, finger swelling during exercising may be due to blood vessels in your fingers dilating and causing them to swell. Some endurance athletes may also experience hyponatremia (low levels of sodium) that can result in swollen fingers and hands.8

It can actually be dangerous to drink very large amounts of water because you can dilute levels of essential electrolytes to dangerous levels. So if you take part in endurance training or run marathons, make sure you drink plenty of fluids containing electrolytes.

Allergic reaction

An allergic reaction to an insect bite, sting, or food can cause your fingers to look like sausage digits.

Dr. Gary W. Cole on MedicineNet says that some allergic reactions can cause angioedema. This is a condition were histamine causes fluid to swell certain areas of the body. The allergic reaction can cause your fingers to quickly become like sausages. Swollen fingers and hands that are a result of an allergic reaction usually don’t last longer than 24 hours.9

To help reduce the symptoms of an allergic reaction, you can try some natural antihistamines to reduce swelling and itching.

Reynaud’s syndrome

Reynaud’s disease can result in a swollen finger on your right hand or left hand. Although symptoms of Reynaud’s disease often cause the ends of fingers or toes to go white, finger edema is not uncommon.

The journal Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings reports that Reynaud’s syndrome causes blood vessels to dilate. The enlarged blood vessels cause swelling in the hands and fingers. In some cases, finger swelling is an indication that the disease is progressing.10

Premenstrual syndrome

One reason why your fingers could be swollen for no apparent reason is if you suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

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Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine report that a type of premenstrual syndrome can cause increased fluid retention. This can cause finger swelling in the week or so before your period is due. Other symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (a severe form of premenstrual syndrome) can include feelings of anxiety, bloating, abdominal cramping, outbreaks of acne, and headaches.11

Doctors say that hormonal changes before menstruation can cause a serotonin deficiency. You may find that natural serotonin supplements can help alleviate your PMS symptoms and boost your mood.

Pregnancy

Waking up with swollen hands in the morning is very common during pregnancy. Swollen hands and feet are a normal part of pregnancy and you may find that finger swelling becomes more pronounced during your third trimester.

Dr. John P. Cunha on MedicineNet says that hand and leg swelling can also continue for a time after giving birth. After about a week or so, your fingers should have lost their sausage-like look and be back to normal. If you continue to have swelling after this time, you should speak to your doctor.12

Preeclampsia

A serious cause of sudden swelling in fingers and face during the later stages of pregnancy is preeclampsia.

According to OB/GYN Dr. Traci C. Johnson, preeclampsia causes high blood pressure, protein in urine, and swelling of the hands, feet, legs, and face. It is not known what causes preeclampsia, but being overweight or having a poor diet could be contributing factors. Because preeclampsia can put the health of you and your baby at risk, you should speak to your doctor if you have any of its symptoms.13

Underlying kidney condition

Sausage fingers are often present if your kidneys aren’t functioning the way they should.

For example, the researchers from the National Kidney Foundation report that kidney problems can result in excess fluid remaining in your body. This usually causes puffiness of the fingers, hands, feet, and ankles. Poor kidney function can also mean that more salt remains in your body, which can cause tissue puffiness to become worse.14

It’s important to avoid habits that can damage your kidneys to prevent kidney disease. Drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day can also help to flush toxins from your kidneys and improve their function.

Lymphedema

Swollen fingers in just one of your hands could be symptomatic of conditions that cause lymphedema. A blockage in your lymphatic system or damage to your lymph nodes is often to blame for swelling of one hand or leg.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that depending on the severity of lymphedema, the swelling may be hardly noticeable or it could cause extreme swelling. Very often just one leg or one arm is affected. However, toes or fingers that look like sausages on one hand are quite common. Along with the swelling, your arm may feel tight and heavy.15

Dactylitis (Sausage Fingers): Causes

Sausage fingers can also be a result of an infection or inflammation in your hands. Here are the main causes of dactylitis.

Infection

Noticing that just one finger has swollen up can be a symptom of an infection that causes the finger to become inflamed.

The Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology reports that a streptococci bacterial infection can cause a sausage finger. The swelling occurs in one finger when the palm side of the tip of the finger becomes infected.16

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Arthritis

Various forms of arthritis can affect your fingers and cause painful swelling of one or more of your fingers. People who have arthritis may notice that their fingers are more swollen in the morning.

According to rheumatologist Dr. David Zelman, rheumatoid arthritis can affect the joints in your fingers. This can cause swollen finger joints that feel warm and tender to touch. Very often, you may wake up with painful, stiff, and swollen hands in the morning.17

Other doctors have pointed to the fact that spondyloarthritis can affect the knuckles and joints in the hand, resulting in sore sausage fingers.16 Sausage fingers also are common in people who suffer from psoriatic arthritis.20

If you suffer from arthritis, it’s important to avoid foods that can worsen inflammation.

Gout

Gout occurs when too much uric acid in blood causes crystals to form and accumulate in and around a joint. Although gout tends to cause pain, swelling, and redness in the big toe, gout can also be a cause of a swollen, painful finger.

Dr. William C. Shiel on eMedicineHealth reports that the first signs of gout in the hand are swelling and red-hot pain in a joint. The joint pain in your hand can be so severe that even something brushing on the joint can cause excruciating pain.18

You can try some natural remedies for symptoms of gout to see if they will reduce swelling and pain in your affected joints.

Sickle cell disease

Sickle cell disease is an autoimmune condition that can result in sausage fingers and painful hands.

According to Dr. Joseph E. Maakron, an expert in hematology and oncology, sickle cell disease can cause sudden swelling and pain in your fingers. The painful digit swelling can last for several hours to a few days and then suddenly go into remission.19

Other symptoms of sickle cell disease can include severe abdominal pain, fever, and too many white blood cells in the blood.

Fingers Swelling for No Reason

In some instances, there is no discernible cause for swelling in the hands and having stiff fingers in the morning. It could be that certain lifestyle choices are causing your fingers to swell up without realizing the underlying reasons.

If your fingers are swelling for no reason, you could try a few things like:

  • Cut down on salt. Salt can have a negative impact on your heart and also increases water retention, making your fingers look fat and swollen.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Keeping yourself well-hydrated is essential because it helps to flush toxins and salt from your system.
  • Avoid processed foods. These tend to contain high sodium levels and can make your fingers puffy without realizing it.
  • Exercise regularly. Improving your physical shape and exercising regularly can help to keep your heart healthy and improve circulation. This will also help you lose weight, which has been linked to sausage fingers and water retention.

Swollen Fingers in the Night or in the Morning

What can it mean if you only have swollen hands in the morning or your hands just tend to get puffy at night?

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Sleeping position

Waking up with swollen and stiff fingers in the morning could be due to your sleeping position. Sleeping on your hand could affect circulation and cause mild puffiness in your fingers when you wake up.

Kidney problems

If issues with your kidneys are to blame for swollen fingers, you may notice that you wake up with swollen fingers. Dr. Sarah Jarvis on Patient.info says that kidney-related edema tends to be worse in the morning.22

Other reasons for waking up with sausage fingers

Some people have suggested that drinking a large amount of water before going to bed or consuming a salty meal the previous evening may account for sausage fingers in the morning.

Doctors say that the symptoms of arthritis tend to be worse during the night or first thing in the morning. So, if you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or spondyloarthritis, you might frequently have finger swelling when you wake up.

Reasons for swollen fingers at night

Being in a hot climate or having a sedentary lifestyle could contribute to your fingers puffing up during the day and becoming sausage-like by the evening.

Treatments to Reduce Finger Swelling

Reducing swelling in a painful finger usually depends on the underlying cause. In this article, I’ve already mentioned how cutting down on salt in your diet can help reduce finger and facial puffiness. Also, natural antihistamines can reduce the symptoms of hand swelling caused by an allergen.

What else can you do to reduce swelling in your fingers?

Ice

Ice helps to reduce circulation to swollen limbs and numb pain after an injury. Holding an ice compress on your swollen hands can help to bring down swelling and ease the pain, even if you don’t know what exactly is causing swollen fingers.

How to use ice for swollen painful fingers:

  1. Fill a sealable plastic bag with crushed ice so that it is three-quarters full.
  2. Wrap the sealed bag in a thin towel.
  3. Place the ice compress on the swollen finger for up to 15 minutes to help lessen swelling and soothe the pain.
  4. Repeat every 4 hours until your fingers no longer look like sausages.

Elevate your hands

If poor circulation is causing swelling of your digits, then raising your arms above your head may help swelling to go down. Hold your hands for up to 20 minutes above the level of your heart to reduce finger and hand swelling.

Sausage Fingers (Dactylitis): Treatments

If you suffer from chronically swollen fingers due to an inflammatory condition, then there are a few natural remedies to help treat painfully fingers that resemble sausages.

Turmeric

Take turmeric extract supplements daily to help reduce swelling and painful joints in your hands, legs, and shoulders.

Research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that therapeutic compounds in turmeric can help to treat the symptoms of arthritis. Forms of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and spondyloarthritis can all cause similar symptoms. Taking turmeric regularly helped to reduce swelling, tenderness, joint stiffness and pain associated with arthritis.23

Please read my article for more information on the medicinal effects of turmeric and how you can use turmeric to boost your health.

You can also try other natural remedies for arthritis, such as safflower capsules, virgin coconut oil, or shea nut oil.

Omega-3 supplements

Fatty acids like omega-3 have an anti-inflammatory effect that can help to manage long-term inflammatory conditions.

If you have sausage fingers from time to time because of arthritis attacks, take omega-3 supplements to reduce swelling. The Global Journal of Health Science reported that omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to reduce joint swelling in arthritic conditions. Research has also found that omega-3 supplements ease morning stiffness and reduce pain.24

To find out about the other health benefits you can enjoy, please read my article on the many reasons to consume more omega-3 fatty acids.

When to See a Doctor

In many cases, the symptoms of puffy fingers can disappear just as quickly as they appeared. However, in some situations, sausage-like fingers can be an indication of a more serious condition. You should consult with your doctor if you have swollen fingers in the following circumstances:25

  • Your fingers frequently swell up for no reason and you notice severe puffiness under the skin.
  • Your fingers resemble large, shiny sausages.
  • Swollen tissue on your hand remains indented when pressed for a few seconds.
  • You have skin discoloration along with swollen fingers.

Related articles:

Medical Sources

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  2. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2008 Jun; 1(2): 97–102.
  3. WebMD. What is trigger finger?
  4. BetterHealth. Bursitis.
  5. WebMD. A visual guide to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  6. MayoClinic. Edema.
  7. NHS. Heat and humidity.
  8. MayoClinic. What causes hand swelling during exercise?
  9. MedicineNet. Hives (urticaria & angioedema)
  10. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2010 Jan; 23(1): 73–75.
  11. HopkinsMedicine. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
  12. MedicineNet. Edema.
  13. WebMD. Preeclampsia and eclampsia.
  14. KidneyOrg. 5 signs your kidneys or heart could be in trouble.
  15. MayoClinic. Lymphedema.
  16. Scand J Rheumatol.2006 Sep-Oct;35(5):333-40.
  17. WebMD. When RA affects your hands and fingers.
  18. eMedicineHealth. Gout.
  19. Medscape. Sickle cell anemia clinical presentation.
  20. DermNetNz. Dactylitis.
  21. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2014 Jul; 134(1): 154e–160e.
  22. PatientInfo. When should you worry about swollen legs?
  23. J Med Food. 2016 Aug 1; 19(8): 717–729.
  24. Glob J Health Sci. 2016 Jul; 8(7): 18–25.
  25. HealthDirect. Fluid retention.
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