DAN Medical Frequently Asked Questions

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Hand & Foot Edema

After a recent dive, I noticed my right hand appeared swollen about an hour after my second dive. There was no pain or numbness, and I didn't notice any difference in strength. I've never injured this hand nor had this happen before diving. I've been diving about a year, and all my equipment is pretty new. I don't think this is decompression sickness (DCS), but why would my hand swell?

Although it's not frequently reported, slight swelling in the hand or foot is not unusual -- DAN periodically receives questions on this issue. Swelling, or edema, is not a typical symptom of DCS and would rarely occur alone. If it were related to DCS, it is more likely to occur with pain, numbness or change in skin sensation.
The most likely explanation for edema is a constrictive wet or dry suit cuff. Prolonged or repeated exposure to a tight wet suit cuff can produce swelling at the end of the extremity, which in this case is the hand. Even if you have worn the suit before, you may not have worn it long enough to get this effect. Something as simple as a new wristwatch can add compression around that area.
It's important that new suits fit correctly and not too tightly. It is equally important that you can still fit comfortably into your old wet suit. Don't be surprised if you notice swelling in an extremity one or two hours after the dive. Cold water and wrist activity may add to a constrictive effect, but it takes a while for fluid to accumulate. It should resolve shortly, with no other symptoms. If the swelling persists for more than 24 hours you should see a physician to rule out other causes.