Numbness or Tingling

Numbness and tingling can be caused by many medical problems. A primary care doctor can manage many of these problems, but some require the attention of a neurologist. Numbness and tingling is most concerning when it comes on quickly, only affects one side of the body, or is associated with weakness. These may be signs of something as serious as a stroke, requiring urgent evaluation.

On the other hand, benign things such as anxiety or not having recently eaten may cause finger numbness and tingling that comes for short periods of time. If the numbness persists or gets worse, it may be due to peripheral nerve disease, and a neurologist may be called for. If you have any doubts, contact your physician to see what further evaluation is needed.

Causes of Numbness

Numbness is usually caused by damage, irritation or compression of several nerves or a single branch of a nerve, most often situated in the periphery of your body. Diseases affecting the peripheral nerves, such as diabetes, also can cause numbness. Rarely, numbness can be caused by problems in your brain or spinal cord.

Fortunately, numbness by itself is only rarely associated with potentially life-threatening disorders, such as strokes or tumors.

Diagnosing the Cause

Your doctor will need detailed information about your symptoms to diagnose the cause of your numbness. Because so many disorders can cause numbness, a sequential evaluation is done. First, the distribution of numbness is used to localize the part of the nervous system that is involved. Then, other clinical features—particularly rate of onset, associated neurologic symptoms and signs, and symmetry—further narrow the differential diagnosis and thus guide further questions and tests to diagnose specific causative disorders.

Although in practice certain elements of the history are typically asked selectively (eg, patients with a typical stroke syndrome are not usually asked at length about risk factors for polyneuropathy and vice versa), many of the potentially relevant components of the history are presented here for informational purposes.

Information courtesy of, Mayo Clinic, & Merck Manual


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