Different Causes of Numbness in the Hand

Should you be worried?

Numbness in the hand does not always mean that something very bad is ongoing, it may just be an after-effect of a drug or a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome. When a medical illness causes numbness in the hand, it will likely have other symptoms accompanying it. The following are possible causes of numbness in the hand:

numbness in the hand
Photo Credit: Doctor NDTV

Stroke

Most of the time, numbness in the hand is not reflective of an emergency situation that would necessitate a visit to the hospital.

Even though it isn’t common, hand numbness could be a sign of stroke. Ensure to seek medical attention immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:

Early recognition and prompt attention will help avoid long-term complications and mortality thus, once you notice any of the symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.

Vitamin or Mineral deficiency

Vitamin B12 is essential for nerve function. When the levels are deficient, it can result in tingling sensation or numbness of both hands and feet.

Additional symptoms that may result from B12 deficiency include fatigue, weakness, jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes), difficulty walking and maintaining balance, hallucinations, thought problems.

Some medications

Nerve damage can result from certain medications that are used to treat some ailments. These medications include:

  • Antibiotics: such as metronidazole, nitrofurantoin, fluoroquinolones
  • Anticancer medications: such as cisplatin and vincristine
  • Antiseizure medication: such as phenytoin
  • Antihypertensive drug: such as hydralazine
  • Antiarrhythmic drug: such as amiodarone

Apart from numbness and tingling sensation, these drugs could also produce an abnormal feeling in the hands and weakness.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel is a slim canal that runs through the center of the wrist. In the middle of it is the median nerve. This nerve provides sensation to the fingers spanning the thumb, index finger, middle finger and some part of the ring finger.

Some activities done repeatedly such as typing or prolonged exposure to vibration from using hand or power tools can make the median nerve swell up and exerts pressure on it, this, in turn, tends to cause numbness together with tingling, pain, and weakness of the hand affected.

Raynaud’s disease

This happens when the blood vessels are occluded thereby restricting blood from getting to the hands and feet. The resultant effect is pain, numbness, and cold in the digits.

These symptoms are triggered by exposure to cold or when there’s some level of stress.

Slipped cervical disc

The spinal bones are separated by discs. These discs act as a soft cushion and as such, if a tear occurs in the disc, it means that these soft cushions are affected and this is referred to as a herniated, or slipped disc.

The injured disc can exert pressure on and irritate the spinal nerves, it can also lead to weakness of the limbs or painful limbs

Cubital tunnel

The ulnar nerve runs from the neck to the hand along the little finger. It can get compressed or overly stretched at the inner aspects of the elbow. This condition is known as cubital tunnel syndrome.

This syndrome can manifest as tingling, majorly in the ring and little finger. Other symptoms may include pain in the forearm, weakness of the hand, mostly when the elbow is bent.

Cervical spondylosis

This is a certain kind of arthritis that happens to the neck discs due to years of wear and tear on the vertebra. The injured vertebra then exerts pressure on the nerves around it resulting in numbness of the upper extremity.

This condition is usually asymptomatic in some people while others may experience neck pain or neck stiffness.

Other possible symptoms include:

  • Weakness in the upper or lower limbs
  • Headaches
  • An abnormal sound when the neck is moved
  • Muscle twitches in the neck or shoulders
  • Inability to maintain balance and coordination
  • Fecal or urinary incontinence

Epicondylitis

This is an inflammation of the epicondyle. When the lateral epicondyle is repeatedly moved such as that done during a tennis racket swinging it is called “tennis elbow”.  The repeated movement causes damage to the muscles and tendons in the upper arm thereby leading to pain and burning sensation outside the elbow although it is very unlikely to lead to any hand numbness.

Another variant is “medial epicondylitis”, a rare condition caused when the medial epicondyle is inflamed. It causes pain on the inside of the elbow, also causes weakness, numbness or tingling in the hands especially in the little finger and ring finger. Numbness in the hand will only arise if the swelling is significant enough to exert pressure on the ulnar nerve.

Ganglion cyst

Cysts are fluid-filled cavities. Ganglion cysts tend to be situated at the tendons or joints surrounding the hands, wrist or foot. They can grow even above one inch.

When these cysts compress on a surrounding nerve, they cause numbness in the hand, pain or weakness.

Diabetes

Those who have diabetes have a problem with sugar control. Prolonged elevation of blood sugar levels can cause nerve damage referred to as “diabetic neuropathy”.

When the neuropathy is peripheral, it causes numbness in the extremities. Other possible symptoms include burning sensation, pins and needle sensation, weakness, pain, balance loss.

Thyroid disorder

The thyroid gland is situated in the neck. It produces hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism. When there is a disorder, it may either produce too much or too little of its hormones.

When low levels of the hormone are being produced and it is left untreated, it will lead to nerve damage that thereafter cause numbness in the hand, as well as weakness and tingling sensation in the hands and feet.

Alcoholic neuropathy

When alcohol is taken in small quantities, it would hardly cause problems but when it is taken in large quantities, it causes damage to body tissues and even the nerves. People who abuse alcohol often have tingling sensation and numbness in their hands and feet.

Other symptoms associated with alcoholic neuropathy include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramps or contractions
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Paresthesia: pins and needle sensation

Myofascial pain syndrome

This is a muscle condition that leads to the development of trigger areas on the muscles. These trigger areas are very painful and sensitive. The pain felt sometimes radiates to other body parts.

Myofascial pain syndrome can also cause tingling, weakness, and stiffness of the muscles.

Fibromyalgia

This is a condition that causes weakness and pains in the muscles. Its symptoms bear semblance with that of chronic fatigue syndrome hence, they are sometimes confused to mean the same thing.

People who have fibromyalgia may experience numbness and tingling in their face, upper limbs, and lower limbs.

Additional symptoms include depression, difficulty in concentrating, sleep disorders, headache, stomach ache, and change in bowel habits.

Lyme disease

This disease is caused by bacteria called borrelia borgdorferri. Deer ticks play host to these bacteria and can then transmit the disease to humans through a bite. When the disease is contracted, it starts out as a rash which is in the shape of a bull’s eye and also manifests flu-like symptoms including fever and chills.

Delayed symptoms include:

  • Pain and swelling around joints
  • Numbness of the arms and legs
  • Transient one-sided face paralysis
  • Fever, headache and neck stiffness
  • Malaise
  • Difficulty moving muscles

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

SLE simply known as lupus is an autoimmune disease, this means that one’s body attacks their own organs and tissues. It leads to inflammation in many organs and tissues with the target organs being the joints, kidneys, heart, and lungs.

The symptoms are manifested intermittently and mostly depend on the body part affected.

The symptoms of SLE include:

  • Malar rash (butterfly-shaped rash) on the face
  • Tiredness
  • Joint swelling, pain, and stiffness
  • Photophobia (increased sensitivity to the sun)
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon (fingers and toes that turn cold and blue)
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Visual disturbances

Stage IV HIV

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system. It breaks down the body’s defense and without the right treatment, it will lead to massive destruction of the immune cells such that it is unable to protect itself against infections. This will be at the end stage of the disease (stage IV also called AIDS).

HIV and AIDS cause the destruction of the nerve cells in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). This can result in a lack of sensation in the arms and legs.

Other symptoms of stage IV HIV are confusion, malaise, headaches, forgetfulness, breathing difficulties, difficulty swallowing, visual disturbances, lack of coordination, difficulty walking.

It is a lifelong condition as it has no cure although, with the right medical care and Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Treatment (HAART), life expectancy will almost be the same as with one who hasn’t contracted it.

This rarely causes numbness of the hand.

Amyloidosis

It is a condition, albeit rare that occurs when some unusual proteins known as amyloid bodies accumulate in the organs. Symptoms manifested depend on which organ is affected as it is a systemic disease. When the nervous system is affected, symptoms such as numbness or tingling in the hands and feet occur.

Additional symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain and distension
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Change in bowel habit
  • Swollen tongue
  • Neck swelling
  • Undue tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease. Here, the immune system attacks the nerve sheaths and when prolonged, the nerves get damaged.

Symptoms depend on the nerve affected and their region of supply. The likely symptoms are numbness and tingling sensation. It is usually a one-sided sensory loss and the arms, face, or legs can lose sensation.

Other symptoms include visual loss, diplopia (double vision), tingling, weakness, electric shock sensations, difficulty walking or coordinating, slurred speech, tiredness, fecal or urinary incontinence.

Thoracic outlet syndrome

It results from blood vessel compression in the neck and chest. Repeated motions or injury can cause nerve compression. Symptoms are usually those of numbness and tingling sensation in the digits and pain in the neck and shoulders, though rarely.

Additional symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the arm
  • The coldness of the hands, fingers, and arm
  • Weak hand grasp
  • Discoloration of the hands and fingers

Vasculitis

This is a condition that causes blood vessels to swell up and become painful. It is an inflammation of blood vessels and it makes blood perfusion to various organs and tissues to be reduced thereby leading to problems like numbness and weakness.

Other manifested symptoms include headache, fatigue, weight loss, fever, body pains, shortness of breath, and red spotty rashes.

Guillain-Barre syndrome

It is a rare condition that causes the immune system to attack and injure the nerves. It usually follows a viral or bacterial illness.

This damaged nerve manifests as numbness, weakness, and tingling that begins in the legs. It later spreads to the arms, hands, and face, more like an ascending neuropathy.

Additional symptoms include:

  • Speech difficulty
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Racing heart rate
  • Fecal and urinary incontinence
  • Gait problems

It, however, occurs rarely.

When should you see a doctor?

There are indications to see a doctor. Such instances include:

  • Numbness that stays on for days or more
  • Numbness that spreads to other body parts
  • Numbness following an injury or illness
  • Numbness associated with symptoms like malaise, confusion, speech difficulties, visual disturbances, dizziness, limb paralysis, and sudden severe headache.

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