What is paresthesia?
Paresthesia affects most people at some point in their lives. Most people have experienced a “pins and needles” feeling before. It most often occurs in the hands, feet, legs or arms but can affect other areas of the body.
Temporary paresthesia often results when a person falls asleep on their hand or sits with their legs crossed for too long. The sustained pressure on the nerve interferes with its ability to send signals, leading to the numb feeling associated with a limb “falling asleep."
When the block is removed, the nerve system becomes hyperactive as it is allowed to resume normal function, leading to the uncomfortable tingling.
Chronic paresthesia does not go away so easily. It is either constant or intermittent and usually arises from neuropathy, or nerve damage. Neuropathy can lead to muscle weakness as well as pain or numbness.
While the occasional “pins and needles” feeling should not concern you, chronic paresthesia may indicate an underlying condition or trauma.
Symptoms of paresthesia
Paresthesia is an abnormal nerve sensation. It most often (but not exclusively) affects hands, feet, arms, and legs. The feeling has been described as:
- Pins and needles
The strange prickling is often a good sign, indicating that blocked nerves are returning to normal function.
Temporary or transient paresthesia is usually harmless, but if the feeling persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, you should see a doctor.
Causes of paresthesia
There are a large number of paresthesia causes, both for temporary paresthesia and for chronic paresthesia. Because of the wide variety of potential causes, diagnosis often has to rely on other symptoms.
In addition to a manually compressed nerve (such as when you fall asleep on your arm), temporary paresthesia may be caused by any of the following:
- Panic attacks
- Circulatory disorders
- Repetitive motion
Chronic paresthesia may be caused by a large number of each of the following:
- Systemic diseases
- Hereditary disorders
- Toxic exposure
Common, treatable causes include:
There are also many entrapment neuropathies, disorders in which nerves suffer from chronic compression. A good example is carpal tunnel syndrome. In it, the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway in your wrist, is damaged so that it continually compresses the median nerve, causing pain and tingling in your hand and wrist.
When to see the doctor for paresthesia
You should see the doctor if paresthesia does not resolve on its own. Constant or intermittent paresthesia that is accompanied by pain may indicate serious nerve damage. In cases of both carpal tunnel and diabetic neuropathy, paresthesia acts as a warning sign and should prompt you to seek treatment before your condition further deteriorates.
Paresthesia that is accompanied by weakness may indicate underlying problems of the nervous system. If you notice decreased muscle function along with numbness, you should see your physician.
Paresthesia can also occur during a stroke. If the sensation comes on suddenly and is accompanied by weakness, facial drooping, or slurred speech, contact emergency medical services.
Diagnosis of paresthesia
In order to diagnose the cause of chronic paresthesia, your doctor will likely begin with a detailed history and physical examination. The presence of other symptoms, the speed of progression, and location may all help your doctor locate the disorder and decide what to do next.
Further tests may include any of the following:
- Blood tests
- Genetic testing
- Nerve conduction studies
- Nerve biopsy
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
The tests ordered will depend on your doctor’s suspicions about what is causing your paresthesia.
Treatments for paresthesia
In order to treat paresthesia, your doctor will come up with a plan that both treats the underlying condition and manages symptoms. Depending on the condition, treatment may be anything from surgery to drug therapy to lifestyle changes.
Your doctor will also help you manage the discomfort associated with paresthesia. Potential treatments include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Anti-seizure medications
- Topical sprays or creams that contain lidocaine or capsaicin
Your doctor may also recommend that you wear certain supports or lose weight.
- Scans Show Brain Changes in People With Long COVID
- Got GERD? Eat This Way to Help Avoid Symptoms
- 5 Women Contracted Syphilis Affecting the Eyes From the Same Asymptomatic Man
- Long COVID Now Common in U.S. Nursing Homes
- Breathing in Coal-Based Pollution Could Be Especially Deadly: Study
- More Health News »
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Family Physician: "Peripheral Neuropathy: Diagnosis and Treatment."
The Marshall Protocol Knowledge Base: "Numbness (paresthesia and neuropathy)"
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Paresthesia information."
Paresthesia: "Underlying Causes of Paresthesia."
University of Rochester Medical Center: "Understanding the ‘Pins and Needles' Feeling."
Top What Is Paresthesia and What Causes It Related Articles
Types of Diabetes Type 2 MedicationsType 2 diabetes oral medications are prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes in conjuction with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. There are nine classes of drugs approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Examples of type 2 oral diabetes medications include acarbose (Precose), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol, Glucotrol XL), and metformin (Glucophage). Side effects, drug interactions, warnings and precautions, dosage, and breastfeeding and pregnancy safety information should be reviewed prior to taking any medication.
Carpal Tunnel SyndromeCarpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which irritation of the wrist's median nerve causes tingling and numbness of the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome depends on the severity of the symptoms and the nature of any disease that might be causing the symptoms.
Carpal Tunnel QuizWho is more affected by carpal tunnel syndrome: Men or women? Take the Carpal Tunnel Quiz to learn the causes, symptoms, and treatments for this common hand condition.
Diabetes Foot ProblemsLearn more about diabetes related foot problems. For people with diabetes, too much glucose in the blood can cause serious foot complications such as nerve damage, infection, and ulcers. Find tips for proper foot care to help prevent serious complications.
Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. The two types of diabetes are referred to as type 1 (insulin dependent) and type 2 (non-insulin dependent). Symptoms of diabetes include increased urine output, thirst, hunger, and fatigue. Treatment of diabetes depends on the type.
What Is Diabetic Neuropathy?Diabetic neuropathy a condition in which nerve damage has occurred as a complication of diabetes. The pain from the nerve damage can be severe with tingling or numbness in the part of the body affected. Diabetic neuropathy can occur anywhere in the body. Diabetic neuropathy can cause symptoms like intense pain, numbness, burning, or tingling in the part of the body affected by the condition. There are four types of neuropathy include peripheral, autonomic, proximal and focal. Natural therapies and medications may help relieve the pain and other symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic Neuropathy QuizDiabetic neuropathy is serious. Take this quiz to get the facts.
Exercises for Diabetes Nerve PainLearn how to cope with the symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy through pain management exercises. Find relief for diabetic nerve pain without medication.
Why Are My Hands and Feet Tingling?Do your hands and feet sometimes feel numb or prickly? Learn some of the common causes.
Hyperthyroidism is an excess of thyroid hormone due to an overactive thyroid gland. Symptoms can include increased heart rate, weight loss, heart palpitations, frequent bowel movements, depression, fatigue, fine or brittle hair, sleep problems, thinning skin, and irregular vaginal bleeding.
Graves' disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. Many other health problems or taking excess thyroid hormone medication can cause an overactive thyroid gland. Treatment for the condition is with medication, radioactive iodine, thyroid surgery (rarely), or reducing the dose of thyroid hormone. No diet has been shown to treat hyperthyroidism or its symptoms and signs.
Hyperthyroidism: Symptoms, Treatment, MedicationWhat are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism? What causes hyperthyroidism? What happens when you take thyroid medication? Hyperthyroidism occurs when an overactive thyroid gland produces an excessive amount of thyroid hormone. Learn hyperthyroidism causes, symptoms, and treatment.
Prediabetes is a situation where a person's blood sugar levels are higher than they should be, but aren't high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. There are no signs or symptoms of prediabetes. Some of the risk factors for prediabetes are
- high blood pressure,
- high cholesterol,
- heart disease,
- family history,
- poor diet, and
- lack of activity.
Diet changes along with other healthy lifestyle changes are important in treating prediabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes QuizWhat causes type 2 diabetes? Can it be prevented? Take this online quiz and challenge your knowledge of this common condition. Also, get the truth about myths and facts!
What Are the Early Signs of Type 2 Diabetes?Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by increased blood sugar (glucose) level. Type 2 Diabetes is caused by either insufficient insulin secretion or resistance to that hormone’s action. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and helps process the glucose in the blood. Thus, with inadequate insulin, the bodies can’t burn all the blood sugar for energy in an efficient way. This means the glucose level in the blood rises, causing a variety of symptoms and when severe may even lead to death.
What Are the Four Types of Diabetic Neuropathy?Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy can be extremely painful. It can also lead to life-threatening health conditions like foot ulcers, amputations, heart attacks, digestion problems, and low blood sugar. Neuropathy mainly occurs due to high blood sugar for a prolonged period.