You may also have stiffness, redness, heat and a decreased range of movement.
Joint swelling can make it difficult to perform ordinary tasks at work or at home, such as using a computer mouse and climbing stairs. Chronic (long-term) swelling and discomfort can affect your work, social or family life.
There are things you can try to reduce the swelling on your own. However, you should see your doctor if you think your joint may be infected, or if swelling hasn’t gone down after a few days.
Swollen joints can happen when there’s more fluid than normal in the tissues around your joints. This is due to inflammation in these tissues, which is part of your body’s natural immune response to tissue damage or infection.
If one joint is swollen, it's usually due to a joint injury, such as a sprain, dislocation or fracture.
If more than one joint is swollen, it may be caused by an underlying condition, such as arthritis. Common types of arthritis are:
A hot, swollen joint that develops quickly could be due to septic arthritis – a bacterial infection in your joint. If you suspect you have septic arthritis, you should see your GP or visit A&E as soon as possible. In some cases swollen joints can be caused by ulcerative colitis - a chronic (long-term) condition which inflames the lining of the large intestine (colon or large bowel).
Other conditions include:
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You should arrange to see your GP if:
Your GP will discuss your symptoms and examine your joint(s). They may also arrange for you to have blood tests and imaging tests, such as:
In some cases, your GP can refer you to an orthopaedic consultant for further investigation, such as:
Treatments depend on the underlying reason for your joint inflammation.
Things you can do at home to help include:
Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or antibiotics if the swelling is caused by an infection. In some cases, they may offer a joint injection to reduce swelling and pain in the joint.