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Medically reviewed by Last updated on April 12, 2021.


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 or burning. Numbness can occur along a single nerve on one side of the body, or it may occur symmetrically, on both sides of the body.


Numbness is often caused by damage, irritation or compression of nerves. A single nerve branch or several nerves may be affected, as with a slipped disk 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) — also can cause numbness.

Numbness commonly affects nerves located on the periphery of your body. Numbness alone isn't usually 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.

Possible causes of numbness in one or both of your hands include:

Brain and nervous system conditions

  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Brain aneurysm (a bulge in an artery in your brain)
  • Brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation) (arteriovenous malformation) — an abnormal formation of brain blood vessels
  • Brain tumor
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Herniated disk
  • Paraneoplastic syndromes of the nervous system
  • Peripheral nerve injuries
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Spinal cord tumor
  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Transverse myelitis

Trauma or overuse injuries

  • Brachial plexus injury
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Frostbite

Chronic conditions

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Amyloidosis (buildup of abnormal proteins in your organs)
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (a group of hereditary disorders that affects the nerves in your arms and legs)
  • Diabetes
  • Fabry's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Porphyria
  • Raynaud's disease
  • Sjogren's syndrome

Infectious diseases

  • Leprosy
  • Lyme disease
  • Shingles (herpes zoster infection)
  • Syphilis

Treatment side effects

  • Side effects of chemotherapy or anti-HIV drugs

Other causes

  • Heavy metal exposure
  • Thoracic aortic aneurysm
  • Vasculitis
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency

When to see a doctor

Numbness can have a variety of causes. Most are harmless, but some can be life-threatening.

Call 911 or seek emergency help if your numbness:

  • Begins suddenly
  • Follows a recent head injury
  • Involves an entire arm or leg

Also seek emergency medical care if your numbness is accompanied by:

  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty talking
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden, severe headache

You are likely to have a CT scan or MRI if:

  • You've had a head injury
  • Your doctor suspects or needs to rule out a brain tumor or stroke

Schedule an office visit if your numbness:

  • Begins or worsens gradually
  • Affects both sides of the body
  • Comes and goes
  • Seems related to certain tasks or activities, particularly repetitive motions
  • Affects only a part of a limb, such as your toes or fingers

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