The hands can reveal health conditions like heart disease, Raynaud’s, psoriasis, nickel allergy, and more.
Your hands speak volumes, especially when something’s not working right. Their form, function, and appearance can offer important prognostic and diagnostic clues.
You can learn a lot about your health by looking at your hands. Certain medical conditions and diseases can present with various symptoms in your hands. Here’s what these signs and symptoms could mean.
A red rash on your hand or wrist might indicate a nickel allergy, sometimes morphing into oozing blisters. Sensitivity to nickel is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis.1 Allergic contact dermatitis is a skin condition that causes a rash when your skin comes into contact with an allergen.
Many everyday objects touching your skin—such as bracelets, watches, rings, and cell phones—contain nickel. You can also develop a hand rash from ingesting foods containing nickel.1
Foods that contain high amounts of nickel include:1
- Cocoa powder
- Soy products (such as soy sauce, tofu, and soybeans)
Some things may up your chances of developing allergic contact dermatitis, including how old you are, what you do for work, and whether you have a history of atopic dermatitis, aka eczema.2
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic (long-lasting) skin condition that can appear as a rash on the hands. The skin can become inflamed, red, irritated, and extremely itchy. Flares—when the disease is worse—are often followed by periods of clear skin.3
It’s unsure what causes atopic dermatitis, but it seems related to your genetics, immune system, and environment. The disease usually appears during childhood, and many children are free of symptoms by the time they are teenagers. Some people, however, develop it when they’re adults.3
You’re more likely to get atopic dermatitis if someone else in your family has it, hay fever, or asthma. It also seems to be more common in non-Hispanic Black children and females.3
See a dermatologist or other healthcare provider to get tested and treated if you suspect you have a nickel allergy or atopic dermatitis.
Finger clubbing is a change to the nailbeds that may indicate underlying health conditions. Finger clubbing symptoms include:4
- Large, bulging fingertips that may be red and warm to the touch
- Rounded nailbeds
- Sharpened angle between the nailbed and cuticle
- Softened nailbeds that look like they are detached from the finger
Finger clubbing commonly occurs with heart or lung disease if less oxygen is in the blood. For example, lung cancer, endocarditis, and congenital heart defects may cause finger clubbing.4
Consult a healthcare provider if you develop finger clubbing. Treatments can swiftly get rid of changes to the nailbeds. Though, a healthcare provider may also want to run tests for any underlying health conditions, as well.4
Hand Pain, Stiffness, and Swelling
Various inflammatory diseases could be the culprit if your hands are hurting and inflamed. Possible causes include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease6
- Psoriatic arthritis7
- Rheumatoid arthritis8
Dermatomyositis is a rare skin and muscle disease. In addition to joint swelling, it can produce a rash and muscle weakness. Its cause is unknown, but factors like genetics and the environment seem to be involved.5
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In addition to causing inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, IBD can cause joint pain and swelling (arthritis) or only joint pain (arthralgia). The pain and swelling are more likely to affect your large joints like your elbows, wrists, knees, ankles, or spine.6
Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory disease of the joints. The joint swelling is accompanied by dry, red, and flaky skin. You could have relatively few skin lesions but many affected joints. Psoriatic arthritis often shows up from ages 30 to 50 years, usually about 10 years after psoriasis shows up.9
Rheumatoid arthritis has similar symptoms to psoriatic arthritis but without skin lesions. Instead, it usually appears in the same place on both sides of your body. It can also affect your knees, ankles, elbows, feet, cervical spine, and jaw. Its cause may be a combination of genetic risk factors, environmental factors, and abnormal immune responses.8
Sometimes, hand shakiness is no big deal. Other times, tremors can be a sign of neurologic disease.
Everyone has a slight shakiness in their hands, known as a physiologic tremor. You may notice shakiness when doing something precise, like threading a needle. Shakiness becomes more noticeable if you are sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, taking certain medicines, or going through alcohol withdrawal.
Another type of tremor, called essential tremor, causes hand and arm shakiness on both sides of the body. Essential tremors often run in families and are present whenever someone performs a manual task like eating.10
There are also various disease-related tremors. Parkinsonian tremor, for example, happens with Parkinson’s disease—a neurological disorder that damages cells in the brain. Parkinsonian tremors usually involve one hand or are more prominent in one hand. The tremor occurs when the hand is at rest.11
Numb or Tingly Hands
Pins and needles in your hands are likely carpal tunnel syndrome if you are young and healthy. Other carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:12
- Hand weakness
- Dropping things
- Shock-like sensations that radiate to the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers
Many people have nighttime tingling or numbness if they sleep with their wrists bent. That bend compresses the median nerve from the wrist to the hand, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome.
A healthcare provider may order an electromyogram (EMG) to look for nerve or muscle damage. Carpal tunnel syndrome treatments range from splints to surgery.12
There are lots of other reasons for hand numbness and tingling. For example, you might experience temporary tingling or trembling if you have a panic attack.13
One cautionary note: Any sudden onset of numbness or weakness (of the arms or hands) is a potential sign of a stroke. In that event, call 911.14
Purple Finger Nodules
You may have endocarditis if you have painful red or purple bumps on your fingertips called Osler nodes. Endocarditis is a severe but rare disease that causes inflammation of the lining of your heart. Endocarditis can also cause bleeding under the skin of the palms, leaving painless red spots.1516
Healthcare providers look for nail findings with endocarditis, such as Janeway lesions and splinter hemorrhages. Janeway lesions are dark spots that indicate bleeding under the skin, usually at the bottom of the thumb and pinky finger. Splinter hemorrhages are narrow lines under the nails that appear red or reddish-brown.17
Skin symptoms can come and go. Usually, symptoms are signs of infection. Other symptoms of endocarditis include:16
- Fever and chills
- New or worsening heart murmur
- Shortness of breath
Endocarditis is most often caused by bacterial infections but can also be caused by fungal infections. You may be more likely to develop it if you have certain heart conditions, a weakened immune system, and poor dental health.16
See a healthcare provider right away if you have those symptoms. Endocarditis can lead to serious health problems like heart failure and sepsis.1
Red Scales or Pus-Filled Bumps
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes patches of thick red skin and silvery scales. Skin lesions can show up on the hands or nails.18
Psoriasis that shows up on the hands or feet, known medically as palmoplantar psoriasis, can cause considerable discomfort. Sometimes it can be accompanied by pus-filled blisters or lead to painful cracking and fissuring. Nail changes, like pitting, crumbling, thickening, discoloration, or separation of the nail from the nail bed, also can occur.19
Adults are most affected by psoriasis, but children can get it too. Psoriasis seems to affect all people equally, regardless of sex.18
See a dermatologist or healthcare provider if you have or think you may have psoriasis. You can get help managing your symptoms and finding a treatment option that works for you.
Trigger finger, called stenosing tenosynovitis, means you have a finger that pops, catches, or gets stuck when you try to bend and straighten it. Due to repetitive use, trigger finger affects the ring finger or thumb most often.
Trigger finger occurs when a tendon—a rope-like structure connecting bone to muscle—or the tunnel it runs through becomes inflamed. That inflammation makes it hard for the tendon to move.20
Anyone can get a trigger finger. Still, trigger finger is more common in people with health conditions like:21
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Thyroid disease
Weak hand strength may mean a side effect of aging. In addition to several other changes in the body, losing muscle mass is a part of getting older.22
Your hands’ strength may have something to do with your overall health. Research suggests people with weaker hands are more likely to have poor health outcomes, such as dying from all causes, including cardiovascular disease.23
Evidence suggests a stronger hand grip may indicate healthy heart function and structure. Based on those findings, researchers suspect hand grip could one day become a useful measure for identifying people at high risk of developing heart disease.24
You can’t prevent some of the effects of aging, but you may be able to affect how slow or fast you age. The key is lifestyle. To slow age-related changes, exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, limit alcohol, and avoid tobacco. By doing these things, you’ll be keeping your body strong and healthy as you age.
White, Blue, or Red Fingers
You may have Raynaud’s if your fingers lose their color and then turn blue when you are cold or stressed. This phenomenon can cause the blood vessels in your limbs to narrow, resulting in a temporary loss of blood flow. It usually affects your fingers and toes.25
Raynaud’s can make your fingers feel numb, cold, or painful. As blood flow resumes, your digits may throb or tingle and turn red.25
The more common type of Raynaud’s has no known cause. It’s most likely to show up in people of the female sex who are in their teens to 30s. People with a family member with Raynaud’s are at a higher risk of developing it themselves.25
The less common type is caused by a specific problem, like diseases and medication. Diseases that can lead to Raynaud’s include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Clotting disorders
- Inflammation of the muscles
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Scleroderma (a rare connective tissue disease)
- Sjögren’s syndrome (an autoimmune disorder)
- Thyroid disorders
Some medications may cause similar symptoms or make underlying Raynaud’s worse. Meds for high blood pressure, migraines, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are included in this group.25
A Quick Review
Your hands can tell you a lot about your health. Hand conditions may be a sign of an underlying disease. For example, a rash on your hand may mean you are experiencing an allergic reaction to nickel or other allergen. Hand pain may be related to inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Take any problems with your hands or any changes to the skin on your hands seriously. Consult a healthcare provider who can determine the cause and give you the right care for your needs.