Numbness - Prolonged vs. Temporary

Numbness - Prolonged vs. Temporary


Numbness is a relatively common but abnormal sensation that can occur anywhere in the body. A tingling sensation often accompanies it, and it is most frequently experienced in the extremities including the arms, legs, feet, and hands. It can be caused by numerous factors, many of which are not cause for major concern. Some causes, however, require medical treatment. As a result, it is important to see a doctor for any cases of prolonged, unexplained numbness.

Temporary Numbness

Most individuals experience occasional numbness as the result of sitting or standing in the same position for an extended period. It may also occur as the result of a body part "going to sleep." This sensation occurs after putting pressure on a part of the body. This pressure prevents nerve impulses from traveling through the body properly. As a result, the brain cannot communicate with that specific body part. This causes one to feel an odd numbness and tingling sensation. When pressure on the nerves is relieved, then the feeling typically returns.

See a Doctor for Prolonged Numbness

There are also numerous medical causes for numbness. The most common are those that are related to nerve damage or pressure on the nerves. Back injuries, pressure on the nerves of the spine caused by a herniated disk, or pressure on peripheral nerves caused by tumors, infection, scar tissue, or enlarged blood vessels can all cause numbness. Other potential causes include lack of blood supply, diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, stroke, seizures, and an under-active thyroid. Some patients may also experience numbness as the result of certain insect bites, abnormal levels of calcium, sodium, or potassium, vitamin deficiencies, certain medications, or nerve damage caused by tobacco or alcohol use.

Diagnosing the Cause

Doctors may need to perform numerous tests to determine the exact cause of a patient's numbness. Blood tests are often used to check for thyroid function and the levels of chemicals, vitamins, and minerals in the body. Imaging tests such as CT scans, MRI's, ultrasounds, X-rays, or vascular ultrasounds may also be utilized. Other tests may include nerve studies or lumbar punctures.

Treatment Options

Treating numbness requires detecting and treating the cause. Some cases can be treated with vitamin or mineral supplements while others may require procedures to repair nerve damage. Sometimes nerve damage cannot be fixed. In limited instances, prolonged numbness may lead to paralysis of the affected area. When left untreated, numbness may also spread to other areas.

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