Numbness and Tingling
Tingling refers to unusual prickling sensations that can happen in any part of your body, but they are generally noticed in hands, feet, arms, ...

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What is Numbness and Tingling?

Numbness and tingling are unusual prickling sensations that can happen in any part of your body, but they are generally noticed in hands, feet, arms, and legs. Many things can cause the feeling of numbness and tingling, including sitting with your legs crossed or falling asleep on your arm.

If numbness and tingling persist and there’s no obvious cause for the sensations, it could be a symptom of a disease or injury, including multiple sclerosis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Treatment will depend on your diagnosis.

The medical term for numbness and tingling is paresthesia.

Causes of Numbness and Tingling

Many things can cause numbness and tingling, including some medications. Everyday reasons that are no cause for concern include:

  • lack of movement, for example when you sit or stand in one position for a long time
  • sitting with your legs crossed
  • falling asleep on your arm

Other conditions that can cause numbness and tingling are:

  • insect or animal bites
  • radiation therapy
  • abnormal levels of vitamin B12 or other vitamins, potassium, calcium, or sodium
  • seafood toxins
  • carpal tunnel syndrome (pressure on the nerves in your wrist)
  • poor blood supply to the affected area
  • an injured nerve in your neck
  • herniated disk in your spine
  • pressure on your nerves (could be due to scar tissue, enlarged blood vessels, infection, or tumors)
  • diabetes
  • migraine headache
  • frostbite
  • shingles (a painful skin rash caused by latent varicella-zoster virus (chicken pox virus)
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon (a condition which causes blood vessel spasms that block blood flow)
  • transverse myelitis (inflammation of the spinal cord)
  • encephalitis (inflammation and selling of the brain)
  • multiple sclerosis (an autoimmune disease that targets the brain and spinal cord)
  • underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis)
  • seizures
  • hardening of the arteries
  • transient ischemic attack (TIA) (a mini-stroke)
  • stroke

When to Seek Urgent Care

In some cases, feelings of numbness and tingling or burning can indicate a serious injury or medical condition. Seek urgent care if you also:

  • have just suffered a back, neck, or head injury
  • are unable to walk or move
  • lost consciousness, even if only for a short time
  • have feelings of confusion or trouble thinking clearly
  • have slurred speech
  • have visual disturbances
  • have lost bowel or bladder control
  • feel weak
  • have severe pain

Diagnosing Numbness and Tingling

Everyone experiences numbness, tingling, or burning on occasion. You probably have felt it when you stood up after sitting in one position for a long time. Usually it is resolved within minutes. You should consult with your physician if:

  • there is no obvious cause for continuing numbness and tingling
  • you have a rash
  • symptoms in your legs worsen when you walk
  • you feel dizzy
  • you have muscle spasms
  • you are urinating more frequently than usual

Expect your doctor to request a complete medical history. Be sure to report:

  • all symptoms, even if they don’t seem related
  • any previously diagnosed conditions
  • any recent injuries
  • any recent infections
  • any recent vaccinations (especially flu shots)
  • your prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements

Depending on the findings of a physical exam, your doctor may order additional tests. These may include:

  • blood tests
  • electrolyte level testing
  • thyroid function testing
  • toxicology screening
  • nerve conduction studies
  • spinal tap (lumbar puncture)
  • diagnostic imaging tests (may include X-rays, angiogram, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound of the affected area)

Treatment for Numbness and Tingling

Treatment will revolve around the reason for your symptoms. Any underlying medical conditions will have to be addressed.

Complications and Precautions

If you are experiencing numbness and tingling, you may also have reduced feeling in the affected areas. Because of this, you will be less likely to feel temperature changes or pain. This means that you could touch something without realizing it’s hot enough to burn your skin. You could be cut by a sharp object without realizing it initially. Make sure you take precautions to protect yourself from burns and other accidental injuries.

Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP
Published: Jul 17, 2012
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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