Numbness

Find a symptom by its first letter

Definition

Numbness describes a loss of sensation or feeling in a part of your body. It’s often accompanied by or combined with other changes in sensation, such as a pins-and-needles feeling, burning or tingling. Numbness can occur along a single nerve, on one side of the body, or it may occur symmetrically, on both sides of the body.

Causes

Numbness is most often caused by damage, irritation or compression of nerves. A single nerve branch, or several nerves, may be affected, as with a slipped disc in the back or carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist. Certain diseases, such as diabetes, which can damage the longest, most sensitive nerve fibers (such as those going to your feet), can also cause numbness.

Usually, the affected nerves are located on the periphery of your body. Only rarely is numbness caused by problems in your brain or spinal cord. Numbness alone 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.

Causes of numbness:

  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Amyloidosis
  • Brachial plexus injury
  • Brain aneurysm
  • Brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation)
  • Brain tumor
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
  • Diabetes
  • Fabry’s disease
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Heavy metal exposure
  • Herniated disk
  • Leprosy
  • Lyme disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Paraneoplastic syndromes of the nervous system
  • Peripheral nerve compression (ulnar or peroneal nerves)
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Porphyria
  • Raynaud’s disease
  • Shingles
  • Side effects of chemotherapy or anti-HIV drugs
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Spinal cord tumor
  • Stroke
  • Syphilis
  • Thoracic aortic aneurysm
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Vasculitis (blood vessel inflammation)
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency

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