NumbnessBy Mayo Clinic staff
Original Article: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/numbness/MY00226
Numbness describes a loss of sensation or feeling in a part of your body. Numbness often is accompanied by other changes in sensation, such as a pins-and-needles feeling, burning or tingling. Numbness can occur along a single nerve, or it may occur on both sides of the body in a symmetrical pattern.
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.
Your doctor will need detailed information about your symptoms to diagnose the cause of your numbness. A variety of tests may be needed to confirm the cause before appropriate treatment can begin.
- Acoustic neuroma
- Brachial plexus injury
- Brain aneurysm
- Brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation)
- Brain tumor
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
- Fabry's disease
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Herniated disk
- Lyme disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Paraneoplastic syndromes of the nervous system
- Peripheral nerve compression (ulnar or peroneal nerves)
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Raynaud's disease
- Side effects of chemotherapy or anti-HIV drugs
- Sjogren's syndrome
- Spinal cord injury
- Spinal tumor
- Thoracic aortic aneurysm
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency
When to see a doctor
Numbness can have a variety of causes. Most are harmless, but some can be life-threatening.
Call 911 or go to the emergency room if your numbness:
- Begins suddenly
- Follows a recent head injury
- Involves an entire arm or leg
Also seek emergency medical care if your numbness is accompanied by:
- Weakness or paralysis
- Difficulty talking
- Sudden, severe headache
You are likely to have a CT scan or MRI if:
- You've had a head injury
- Your doctor suspects or needs to rule out a brain tumor or stroke
Schedule an office visit if your numbness:
- Begins or worsens gradually
- Affects both sides of the body
- Comes and goes
- Seems related to certain tasks or activities, particularly repetitive motions
- Affects only a part of a limb, such as your toes or fingers
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- Numbness. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/about-multiple-sclerosis/what-we-know-about-ms/symptoms/numbness/index.aspx. Accessed Feb. 1, 2013.
- Neuropathy (nerve damage). American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/neuropathy/. Accessed Feb. 1, 2013.
- Stabler SP. Vitamin B12 deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine. 2013;368:149.
- Vestibular schwannoma (acoustic neuroma) and neurofibromatosis. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/acoustic_neuroma.asp. Accessed Feb. 1, 2013.