What Causes That Worrying Tingling in Your Hands and Feet?

I have occasionally experienced a tingling sensation or numbness, similar to pins and needles, in my extremities, but I never knew what was causing it. Whenever I brought it up with someone, they would look grim and worried, and whenever I ran a Google search for an answer, I was quite scared to see what I would find. Then, time went by and I forgot all about it, so I must have been fine. Still, I will never forget that fearful feeling that there was something wrong with my health. Sometime later, I found the following guide to such tingling feelings to be a great educational tool. Read on to find out about this incredibly common experience. 


NOTE: This guide is merely meant to inform. It is not a substitute for a proper diagnosis from a medical professional. If you experience the symptoms listed in this article, the best advice is that you discuss it with your GP.

What is Paresthesia? 
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Tingling and numbness are known as ‘paresthesia’. It is usually felt on parts of our limbs, hands or feet. Often, as pins and needles, it is simply a benign consequence of undue pressure being placed on the body parts in question, such as leaning on one arm or crossing your legs for a long time. It is resolved as quickly as it appears when you remove the offending pressure, causing only mild discomfort, but no pain.

Peripheral Neuropathy - three categories of causation
The very same sensation can occur without any obvious pressure being applied. This paresthesia may be severe, episodic or even chronic (never ending). If this happens and is coupled with other symptoms, like pain, itchiness, numbness and muscle wasting, the tingling might be an indication of nerve damage. Such damage is called peripheral neuropathy, affecting nerves that are far away from the brain and spinal cord, usually in the hands and feet.


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1. Diabetes
There are a great number of people, with reference to the elderly in particular, who suffer from peripheral neuropathy. In America, for example, it is estimated that more than 20 million people have the condition, though there are in excess of 100 different types of peripheral neuropathy. In time, the condition worsens when left untreated, resulting in reduced mobility and possibly even disability. The major cause of peripheral neuropathy, in around 30% of cases, is diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy is therefore considered to be the first sign of diabetes. 

WARNING: Since peripheral neuropathy, the underlying cause of paresthesia, in 30% of cases is a sign of diabetes, it is very important that if you feel prolonged paresthesia you consult your doctor immediately for treatment to help reduce your blood sugar levels.

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2. Idiopathic Cause 
In another 30% of cases of peripheral neuropathy, where the cause is not diabetes, no cause can be found, and they are thus labeled ‘idiopathic’. This may be the case more commonly in over 60s, and it progresses slowly. Over-the-counter pain medication can be used for mild pain, or for severe pain, prescription medication can be taken regularly. Therapeutic shoes can also be acquired which reduce symptoms. 


3. The Remaining 40% of Cases
Besides diabetic and idiopathic causes of peripheral neuropathy, the remaining 40% of cases contain a wide variety of unrelated causes. There are so many causes on this list that it frightens many people when they first learn about the disease. However, the disease is very well-researched, and your doctor will know how to diagnose the root of your illness efficiently.


Other Common Causes of Paresthesia

Neuralgia: this is a potent stabbing or burning pain that occurs right along the nerve that has become damaged. It has many possible causes, such as shingles, diabetes, or multiple sclerosis.
Radiculopathy: this is a disease of the spinal nerve roots. It can produce pain, numbness, and weakness at the spine area. 
Carpal Tunnel: a syndrome of the hand’s median nerve, which has become compressed. It is located on your palm. 
Mini Stroke (transient ischemic attack): unlike a stroke, which kills brain cells, this ITA, mini-stroke, does not. It does, however, cause similar symptoms to a stroke, and is the result of blood flow to the brain stopping for a period of time. This is considered a medical emergency that may well require urgent attention.
Spinal Cord Injury: is a very serious type of injury, which may drastically alter your life condition. It too will require urgent medical attention.


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Other common causes include, but are not limited, to:

  • Cervical Spondylosis
  • Stroke Overview (urgent)
  • Ulnar Nerve Palsy 
  • Panic Disorder
  • Intracerebral Hemorrhage (urgent) 
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome (urgent) 
  • Stenosis
  • Spinal Bone Fracture
  • Alcohol Abuse / Alcoholism
  • Frostbite (urgent)
  • Vitamin Deficiency

If you are very worried and would like a good idea of what may be causing your paresthesia, try this web tool, which may help you do just that. Keep in mind that this is no substitute for a professional diagnosis.



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In order to be absolutely thorough, your doctor will require a complete medical history from you, and a description of any apparently unrelated symptoms you may be experiencing. Since medication is often considered a cause of tingling, the doctor will ask you about any such medications, or vaccinations, in addition to learning about any infections or injuries you have sustained. 

As well as a physical exam, you may also expect further tests, such as blood tests, electrolyte level testing, thyroid function testing, toxicology screening or nerve conduction studies. Perhaps a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) will also be conducted. To conclude their diagnosis, your doctor may also resort to x-rays, angiograms, CT/MRI scans or ultrasound. 


When to Consult a Doctor
For the following symptoms please contact your medical provider for advice:

-  Numbness or tingling with no obvious cause
-  A pain in the neck, forearm or fingers
-  Unusually frequent urination
-  Numbness in legs which worsens when you walk
-  If you have a rash
-  If you experience dizziness, a muscle spasm, or something else unusual.

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For the following symptoms please contact your hospital for urgent medical attention:

-  You feel weak or unable to move, besides tingling and numbness
-  Your tingling or numbness is felt after a recent head, neck or back injury
-  You cannot control your arm or leg movement or have lost bladder or bowel control
-  You feel confused and have lost consciousness for a time
-  Your speech is slurring or your vision is affected


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Treatments will be related to the diagnosis made of the cause of your paresthesia. If the peripheral nerve cells have not died they will regenerate and you will return to normal. For diabetes, good blood sugar control can slow down and reduce the progression of diabetic neuropathy. Those who, for example, have a vitamin deficiency can have their diet supplemented with more balance, which will also correct their peripheral neuropathy. 


To avoid paresthesia, you may take steps such as: 

-  Maintaining an optimal weight
-  Avoid toxins, and follow your doctor's exercise program
-  Enjoy a balanced diet
-  Limit your alcohol consumption
-  Stopping smoking, which can restrict blood supply

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