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Numbness in hands

Definition

Numbness in one or both hands describes a loss of sensation or feeling in your hand or fingers. Often, hand numbness may be accompanied by other changes, such as a pins-and-needles sensation, burning or tingling. Your arm, hand or fingers may feel clumsy or weak.

Numbness can occur along a single nerve in one hand, or it may occur symmetrically in both hands.

Causes

Hand numbness is usually caused by damage, irritation or compression of one of the nerves or a branch of one of the nerves in your arm and wrist.

Diseases affecting the peripheral nerves, such as diabetes, also can cause numbness, although with diabetes similar symptoms usually occur first in your feet.

In very uncommon instances, numbness can be caused by problems in your brain or spinal cord, although in such cases arm or hand weakness or loss of function also occurs. 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.

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

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Amyloidosis
  • Brachial plexus injury
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (cubital tunnel syndrome)
  • Cervical spondylosis
  • Ganglion cyst
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Lyme disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Paraneoplastic syndromes of the nervous system
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Raynaud's disease
  • Side effects of chemotherapy drugs
  • Sjogren's syndrome
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Stroke
  • Syphilis
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Ulnar nerve compression
  • Vasculitis
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency

When to see a doctor

It's important to determine the cause of hand numbness. If numbness persists or spreads to other parts of your body, consult your doctor for an evaluation.

Treatment of numbness in your hands depends on the underlying cause.

Call 911 or get emergency medical help if your numbness:

Begins suddenly, particularly if it's accompanied by weakness or paralysis, confusion, difficulty talking, dizziness, or a sudden, severe headache.

Schedule an office visit if your numbness:

  • Begins or worsens gradually and persists
  • Spreads to other parts of your body
  • Affects both sides of your body
  • Comes and goes
  • Seems related to certain tasks or activities, particularly repetitive motions
  • Affects only a part of your hand, such as a finger

Last updated: April 8th, 2016

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