Numbness in the fingers can be described as the hand falling asleep, or a pins and needles sensation in one or more fingers. Besides a tingling sensation, the individual may find it difficult to grasp or pick up objects. Finger numbness can be due to minor ailments or more serious conditions.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition, especially in those who perform repetitive motions with their wrists and hands. Usually, carpal tunnel occurs in the median nerve, which runs from the neck to the hand. This crucial nerve provides feeling to the palm side of the hand and fingers. When it becomes irritated or inflamed, the carpal tunnel narrows and presses on the median nerve, resulting in numbness in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. Risk factors for developing carpal tunnel syndrome include anatomic factors such as bone and nerve structure, obesity, nerve-damaging conditions, and inflammatory conditions, in addition to repetitive tasks such as typing.
Chronic alcohol consumption may damage the peripheral nerves, resulting in alcoholic neuropathy. Other side effects of excessive alcohol include poor diet and vitamin deficiencies. Many symptoms can accompany alcoholic neuropathy, including numbness in the hands, fingers, arms, legs, feet, toes, muscle spasms and cramps, muscle weakness, problems with balance and coordination, dizziness, weakness, constipation, diarrhea, and incontinence of urine.
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disorder that occurs when the body's immune system attacks the peripheral nerves. The immediate symptoms include weakness, numbness, and tingling in the extremities such as the arms, legs, fingers, and toes. If not promptly treated, Guillain-Barre syndrome can lead to paralysis. The cause of this condition is unknown, but it is believed to be related to the body's immune response to a respiratory infection or other viral illness. Other symptoms include rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, unsteady walking, difficulty with bladder control, and severe pain. Most people with Guillain-Barre syndrome require hospitalization for treatment and make a full recovery; however, some experience lingering or life-long numbness, weakness, or fatigue.
Those affected by Raynaud's disease experience numbness in the fingers and toes when exposed to cold temperatures or stress. Raynaud's is the result of arteries that clamp down and limit blood flow to the fingers and toes. Symptoms of Raynaud's include fingers that feel cold to the touch and a change of color of the affected area: the fingers may turn from white to red to blue in stages. As stress eases or the affected area warms, numbness and sharp, prickly pain develop. It can take up to fifteen minutes for normal blood flow to return to the affected areas. Although Raynaud's is most common in the fingers and toes, it can also affect the nose, ears, and lips. This disease is most common in women.
Numbness or tingling in the fingers is called paresthesia, and can be a sign of a stroke. This event occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is disrupted, reducing oxygen and nutrients. Strokes are a medical emergency and can cause damage within minutes. The acronym FAST helps people remember the symptoms to check for: face, arms, speech, and time. Ask the person to smile, raise their arms, or repeat a simple phrase. If one side of the face is droopy, one arm or both are unable to raise, or they cannot repeat a phrase properly, the person requires immediate medical attention.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) occurs when the immune system attacks the protective covering over the nerves that speeds up communication between the body and the brain. Individuals with MS can experience numbness or weakness in the arms, legs, fingers, toes, or one side of the body, double vision, slurred speech, fatigue, problems with bladder functions, and dizziness.
Spinal cord injuries usually have a permanent effect on strength, sensation, and other body functions below the point of injury. For example, if the injury occurs at the top of the spinal cord, body functions may be affected from the neck down. An injury at the bottom of the spinal cord might affect body functions from the waist down. Because the injury is affecting the spinal cord and nerves, it can cause weakness and numbness everywhere, including the arms, fingers, legs, and toes. Spinal cord injuries are often disabling.
Regardless of whether the cause can be identified or not, anyone who experiences numbness in the fingers for a prolonged period should seek medical help. Accompanying symptoms and signs that can point to a serious health concern include weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty breathing, slurred speech, sudden weakness, and severe headaches.
To diagnose the cause of finger numbness, a doctor will ask for medical history and perform a physical exam. Blood tests can diagnose finger numbness caused by vitamin deficiencies or certain diseases. If the medical provider cannot diagnose the cause, they may refer the patient to a specialist.
Finger numbness not accompanied by other symptoms can usually be reversed with rest. At-home remedies such as ice and heat and over-the-counter medication can ease the pain and swelling of minor finger injuries. When the cause cannot be identified, finger numbness could be due to an underlying syndrome or disease and needs medical evaluation.
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