Numbness in the hands: Causes and treatments

 Numbness in the hands: Causes and treatments

A number of conditions can cause the hands to feel numb. When a person has a sensation of numbness in the hands, weakness and painful tingling sensations may also occur.

This article will explore some of the possible causes for numbness in a person’s hands, the accompanying symptoms, and some treatment options.

The following cardiovascular conditions may cause numbness in the hands.

1. Heart attack

If a person is experiencing a suspected heart attack, they or someone near them should seek emergency medical help.

Severe blockages in the heart’s main blood supply can cause chest pain as well as tingling and numbness down one arm or the other.

Symptoms

Other symptoms may include:

  • nausea
  • sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • tingling and numbness down either side of the body
  • shoulder pain
  • unexplained fatigue

Treatment

Treatment includes admission to a cardiac catheterization laboratory in a hospital, where a specialist can diagnose and possibly reopen the blocked cardiac artery.

Learn more about heart attack here.

2. Stroke

An interruption in the blood flow to the brain — potentially from a traveling blood clot or a ruptured artery causing a brain bleed — can lead to stroke.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • confusion
  • lower facial drooping on one side of the face
  • difficulty maintaining balance
  • visual problems
  • speech problems

Treatment

If a person is experiencing a suspected stroke, they or someone near them should seek emergency medical attention, which may involve the administration of clot-busting medications.

Learn more about stroke here.

The following vascular conditions may cause numbness in the hands.

3. Vasculitis

Vasculitis can occur when the immune system attacks itself and causes inflammation of the blood vessels.

Symptoms

Symptoms vary based on the area of the body the vasculitis affects.

Some symptoms may include:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • weight loss
  • night sweats
  • rash
  • nerve problems, such as numbness or weakness

Treatment

Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the vasculitis and may include steroids or other immunosuppressant medications.

Learn more about vasculitis here.

4. Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud’s disease causes the arteries that direct blood to the fingers and toes to temporarily narrow.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include a numb, tingling, or burning feeling in fingers, as well as the fingers and toes turning blue or pale white.

Treatment

Learning to avoid the common triggers of the condition — such as cold temperatures, stress, and certain medications — can help ease the symptoms.

Learn more about Raynaud’s disease here.

The following neurological conditions may cause numbness in the hands.

5. Brachial plexus injury

The brachial plexus is a complex network of nerves that extend from the spine to each shoulder. This network transmits signals between the spine and the shoulders, arms, and hands.

Shoulder injuries, tumors, and other causes of inflammation can all lead to damage in the brachial plexus, which can result in numbness in a person’s hand.

Infants may experience brachial plexus injuries during birth due to excessive shoulder stretching in the birth canal.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • severe shoulder or arm pain
  • numbness in the hands
  • weakness and difficulty moving the arms

Treatment

Treatment depends on the underlying cause.

Some people may heal without further intervention, while others may require surgery or physical therapy.

Infants injured during birth may recover by the time they reach 3–4 months of age.

Learn about brachial neuritis here.

6. Fibromyalgia

This condition affects nerve function and causes chronic pain, which may result in tingling and numbness that may closely resemble that of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

Symptoms

Other symptoms may include:

  • pain in several areas of the body, which may include the hands
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • difficulty sleeping
  • depression
  • stomach problems

Treatment

The treatment options for fibromyalgia include exercise, as this can help ease pain and improve sleep. A doctor may also prescribe antidepressant or anticonvulsant therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy may be beneficial for those whose condition does not respond sufficiently to medication.

Learn more about fibromyalgia here.

7. Spinal cord injury

Trauma due to a spinal cord injury can lead to tingling and numbness in the hands and feet. Falls, motor vehicle accidents, blows to the head, gunshot wounds, and several other events can all cause spinal cord injuries.

Symptoms

Symptoms may vary based on the exact area of the body the injury affects. They might include:

  • adversely affected movement
  • loss of sensation
  • loss of large bowel and urinary bladder control
  • pain

Treatment

Treatments include supportive therapy and surgical repair when possible.

Some experimental treatments may give those with a spinal cord injury a better chance of regaining their functioning.

Learn more about spinal cord injuries here.

8. Cubital tunnel syndrome

This condition results from excessive stretching or pressure on the ulnar nerve.

Symptoms

Symptoms, specifically in the ring and pinky fingers, may include:

Treatment

Treatment may include wearing a splint while sleeping, to keep the elbow straight from bending. Physical therapy, NSAIDs, and surgery to remove or repair any areas of excessive pressure on the elbow may also be potential treatment options.

Learn more about cubital tunnel syndrome here.

The following musculoskeletal conditions may cause numbness in the hands.

9. Cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis is also known as osteoarthritis of the neck. This condition occurs when degeneration affects the disks or joints in the neck.

This degeneration can also give rise to cervical spondylotic myelopathy, which occurs when a person has cervical spondylosis symptoms due to compression of the spinal cord or surrounding blood vessels.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • muscle weakness in the extremities
  • pain in the hands
  • increased urinary urgency, frequency, or hesitancy
  • gait disturbance

Treatment

Doctors may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, antidepressants, or corticosteroids. Surgery may help those with severe cases.

Learn more about cervical spondylosis here.

10. Carpal tunnel syndrome

CTS affects around 1% of people who are of working age. CTS occurs when one of the nerves that runs through the carpal tunnel in the wrist becomes compressed.

Symptoms

Symptoms in the hand may include:

  • pain
  • tingling
  • weakness
  • affected grip strength

Treatment

Wearing a splint and resting the wrist and hand may help. Sometimes, a doctor may also recommend surgery to reduce pressure over the carpal tunnel.

Learn more about CTS here.

11. Ganglion cyst

Ganglion cysts are soft lumps that develop in joints around the body. They may cause pain or numbness in the hand.

According to an article in The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, up to 60–70% of ganglion cysts occur in the wrist.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include a round or oval shaped lump on the wrist or other parts of the body, as well as pain in and around the area.

Treatment

Resting the affected area can help. However, wearing a splint or brace for too long may weaken the muscles in the hand.

Although surgery and aspiration therapy may be an option for some, these methods may not be completely effective.

According to a review in the Journal of Hand Surgery, researchers predict the chance of a cyst returning after surgery as 21%. This rises to 59% for recurrence after aspiration.

Learn more about ganglion cysts here.

12. Lateral epicondylitis

Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, occurs when the tendons that join the lateral forearm muscles and bone near the elbow become inflamed.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • pain or burning sensations, often on the outside of the elbow
  • weak grip strength
  • tingling and numbness in the hand

Treatment

Most episodes of lateral epicondylitis will resolve with rest, physical therapy, and NSAIDs. However, in severe instances, a doctor may recommend surgical intervention.

Learn more about lateral epicondylitis here.

The following autoimmune conditions may cause numbness in the hands.

13. Guillain-Barré syndrome

This condition can cause the body’s immune system to attack nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. This can result in muscle weakness.

Symptoms

Other symptoms may include:

  • pins and needles in the hands and feet
  • unsteadiness
  • visual problems
  • difficulty swallowing
  • severe pain that worsens at night
  • muscle paralysis

Treatment

Although there is currently no cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome, a doctor might treat the condition using immunoglobulin therapy or a plasma exchange, otherwise known as plasmapheresis.

These treatments may reduce the body’s immune system response.

Learn more about Guillain-Barré syndrome here.

14. Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that attacks the central nervous system (CNS). The immune system attacks the protective coating of the nerve sheaths, which can eventually destroy the nerves of the CNS.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • numbness and weakness in the limbs
  • electric shock-like sensations
  • tremors
  • unsteady gait
  • adversely affected vision
  • cognitive difficulties

Treatment

Treatment includes taking immunosuppressant medications such as corticosteroids and other disease-modifying therapies.

Later, doctors may also recommend plasmapheresis to reduce the immune system response.

Learn more about MS here.

15. Sjogren’s syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition that primarily attacks the glands that produce tears and saliva.

Some people may also experience tissue or organ damage in other areas of the body.

Symptoms

Other symptoms may include:

  • dry eyes
  • dry mouth
  • itchy skin
  • a chronic cough
  • numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • severe fatigue

Treatment

Treatment depends on the symptoms and which area of the body the condition affects.

For example, a doctor may choose to prescribe eye drops, medications to increase saliva, NSAIDs, or medications to suppress the immune system.

Learn more about Sjogren’s syndrome here.

The following conditions may also cause numbness in the hands.

16. Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition of abnormal blood sugar levels due to dysfunction of the body’s ability to produce enough insulin or respond correctly to it.

The most well-known types of diabetes include:

  • Type 1: This type of diabetes develops when the body does not produce insulin.
  • Type 2: This type of diabetes occurs when the body does not respond properly to insulin and eventually does not produce enough of it.
  • Gestational diabetes: This form of diabetes occurs during pregnancy. It will typically go away after delivery.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • a slow, gradual onset of tingling and numbness in the feet and hands
  • extreme sensitivity to touch or temperature changes
  • burning or stabbing pains in the hands and feet

Treatment

Making certain lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthful diet and exercising regularly, can help a person maintain steady blood sugar levels.

People with type 1 diabetes may have to inject themselves with insulin. Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes may be controllable through the diet or by starting noninsulin medication therapy.

Learn more about diabetes here.

17. Vitamin B-12 deficiency

A study in the journal RMJ found that 90.4% of 110 people with a vitamin B-12 deficiency reported numbness and loss of sensation as symptoms.

Symptoms

Other symptoms may include:

  • numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and legs
  • difficulty walking
  • an inflamed and swollen tongue
  • difficulty thinking clearly
  • muscle weakness
  • fatigue

Treatment

A doctor may prescribe supplementation with vitamin B-12 either in pill form or as a shot.

Learn more about vitamin-12 deficiency here.

18. Amyloidosis

Amyloidosis is a medical condition that causes abnormal protein to build up in healthy tissue, which can affect the function of the affected area.

It can affect a person’s nervous system, kidneys, liver, heart, and digestive tract.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • fatigue and weakness
  • ankle and leg swelling
  • shortness of breath
  • diarrhea
  • unintentional weight loss
  • tingling and pain in the hands and feet

Treatment

There is currently no cure for amyloidosis, but treatment might help ease some of the symptoms.

Treatment may depend on the type of amyloidosis a person has. For example, a doctor may recommend chemotherapy medications, immunosuppressant medications, or stem cell transplants.

Learn more about amyloidosis here.

19. Lyme disease

A bite from a tick carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium can give rise to Lyme disease. This is an infectious condition that affects the nervous system.

Symptoms

The symptoms of Lyme disease can closely resemble those of the flu, such as fever, chills, fatigue, and aching joints.

If a person does not receive treatment, they may experience:

  • joint swelling
  • an irregular heartbeat
  • nerve pain
  • shortness of breath
  • pain or numbness in the hands and feet

Treatment

Treatment depends on the stage the Lyme disease has reached.

Doctors can treat early stage Lyme disease with antibiotic therapy. Later stage Lyme disease may require antibiotics and supportive treatments.

Learn more about Lyme disease here.

20. Medication side effects

Taking certain medications, such as chemotherapy medications, can cause tingling and numbness in the hands.

Treatment

Some people may experience an improvement in symptoms when they stop taking the medications. However, others may experience permanent tingling and numbness.

Learn more about side effects here.

Tingling and numbness can result from a number of medical conditions.

If a person suspects that they or someone near them is having a heart attack or a stroke, they should seek immediate medical attention.

Other symptoms for which a person should seek medical attention include:

  • lasting, sudden, or worsening loss of sensation in the hand
  • obvious physical deformity of the hand or arm
  • pain that gets worse instead of better
  • progressive weakness

If a person is concerned about any symptoms related to unusual sensations in their arms or hands, they should see a doctor.

Numbness in the hands can be the result of a chronic medical condition or acute injury.

A person should talk to their doctor if the numbness appears to be worsening or their symptoms are interfering with their everyday activities.

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