People rely on their sense of touch to quickly pull away from a hot object or feel changes in terrain under their feet. These are referred to as sensations. It’s known as impaired sensation if you can’t feel as well, especially with your hands or feet.
Impaired sensation can be a temporary occurrence that takes place after an injury or a chronic condition that’s the result of diabetes or another illness. Sudden impaired sensation can be a medical emergency.
Impaired sensation can cause the absence of feeling or replace typical sensations with different ones. These include:
Impaired sensations can lead to injury and balance problems.
If you’ve ever crossed your legs and had one go numb when you stand up, you’ve experienced impaired sensation. While this feeling may go away in a few minutes, impaired sensation associated with other conditions may not. Examples include:
- brain tumor
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
- chronic kidney failure
- diabetes mellitus
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- head injury
- herniated disc
- herpes zoster, which causes diseases like chicken pox and shingles
- lead poisoning
- opioid dependence
- peripheral neuropathy
- phantom limb pain that occurs after an amputation
- spinal cord injury
- ulnar nerve palsy
Sudden loss of sensation can be a medical emergency because it can be a sign of stroke. Seek immediate medical attention if you or a loved one experiences the following symptoms:
- loss of balance
- sudden confusion
- sudden, severe headache with no known cause
- sudden weakness on one side of the body
- trouble seeing
See your doctor if your impaired sensation symptoms seem to be getting worse or you are experiencing falls or balance loss because of impaired sensations.
Your doctor may start to diagnose impaired sensation by asking you several questions, including taking a medical history. Questions your doctor may ask include:
- Where do you feel the sensations? Do they feel deep under your skin or just across the top of your skin?
- When do the sensations occur most often? Do they last all day or do they come and go?
- Does anything make your symptoms feel worse or better, such as rest, moving, or sleeping?
A physical examination often comes next. Your doctor may tap lightly on your skin to determine how much you can feel.
Your doctor may also recommend certain tests, depending upon where your symptoms are. These could include:
- imaging scans, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- nerve conduction studies, which measure how well electrical impulses pass through your nerves
- reflex tests
Treatment for impaired sensations depends on what your doctor has identified as the cause. For example, diabetic neuropathy is a common cause of impaired sensation. Treatments can include helping a person maintain better blood sugar control by checking blood sugar levels and treating high readings with insulin. A doctor may prescribe pain medications to treat the pain from abnormal sensations. Practicing careful foot care, including having your toenails cut at a podiatrist’s office and going to regular foot exam appointments, can also help.
In some instances, such as a pinched nerve or sciatica, surgery can help relieve the pressure on the nerve.
Medically Reviewed by: George T. Krucik, MD, MBA
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.