Numbness of limbs
Sensations are carried from the extremities of the body to the brain via neurons in the spinal cord. If the blood supply to the nerves is decre...

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Definition

Numbness of the limbs is an abnormal sensation caused by an alteration in sensory nerve function, which may be temporary.

Alternative Names

Extremity numbness, numb extremities, numb limbs, numbness of arms and/or legs, tingling legs/feet or arms, pins and needles.

Synopsis

Sensations are carried from the extremities of the body to the brain via neurons in the spinal cord. If the blood supply to the nerves is decreased temporarily, it can produce the feeling that "my leg fell asleep". If the blood loss is permanent or severe, it is called ischemia and can result in permanent nerve damage. Nerves in the extremities can be compressed temporarily – as when carrying a heavy object and the arms feel numb. If the compression is chronic, the result can be an entrapment syndrome.

Associated Diagnoses

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Entrapment syndromes
  • Repetitive motion injuries
  • Trauma
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Frostbite
  • Beriberi
  • Diabetic nerve damage
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Snake bites
  • Neuralgias
  • Rabies
  • Radiculopathy
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Toxin exposure or poisoning
  • Stroke
  • Lyme disease
  • Alcoholism
  • Malnutrition

Diagnosis and Treatments

If numbness in the limbs is persistent and accompanied by other symptoms such as weakness and pain, it requires thorough evaluation by a physician. A complete history and physical, including family history, work history, laboratory tests may be indicated. Nerve conduction velocity tests, electromyography, imaging studies and nerve biopsy may be required. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause and what is determined to relieve symptoms. Anti-inflammatory medications or other medications may be prescribed. Physical and occupational therapy as well as stretching exercises may also help alleviate symptoms once the underlying cause is found and treated.

Written by: JC Jones MA, RN
Reviewed by: Paul Auerbach, MD
Written: September 19, 2007
Last Updated: September 30, 2007
Published By: Healthline Networks Inc.
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