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What causes numbness of limbs? 32 possible conditions

What Does Numbness of Limbs Mean?

Numbness is a symptom in which a person loses feeling in a particular part of their body. Sensations may be focused on one body part, or you may feel tingly all over, as if you’re being pricked with many small needles.

Numbness in the arms or legs is a common symptom associated with several different conditions that range from neurological damage to sensory-related conditions. In some instances, numbness may even indicate a medical emergency, such as a stroke.

Doctors often utilize a comprehensive neurological work-up, in order to determine the exact cause of a person’s numbness.

What Does Numbness of Limbs Feel Like?

Numbness of limbs can cause various feelings in different parts of the arms and legs or throughout the limbs. Numbness of limbs can include sensations such as:

  • a burning-like sensation
  • loss of sensitivity in a limb or limbs
  • perception that light touch or other non-harmful sensations are painful
  • unusual sensations, including tingling

Numbness can have many different characteristics, including what makes the sensation worse, how the numbness progresses, and the borders of where the skin feels numb in the limbs.

What Causes Numbness of Limbs?

Numbness is most commonly associated with some type of nerve damage, irritation, or compression.

When numbness occurs without other symptoms, it doesn’t typically represent a medical emergency. However, numbness can be a symptom of a serious condition if it occurs alongside symptoms such as:

  • numbness on one side
  • facial drooping
  • difficulty speaking
  • confused thinking

In such cases, a stroke may be the cause. This is a medical emergency that requires prompt medical attention to prevent loss of significant brain tissue.

Numbness of limbs may also be serious if it occurs with symptoms such as:

  • pounding headache
  • loss of consciousness
  • confusion
  • shortness of breath

This may indicate the presence of a brain tumor, which also requires urgent medical attention.

Numerous medical conditions have numbness of limbs as a possible symptom. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • alcoholism
  • bone compression because of osteoarthritis
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • diabetes
  • fibromyalgia
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • herniated disk
  • vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • thyroid diseases
  • lyme disease
  • multiple sclerosis
  • peripheral nerve compression
  • peripheral neuropathy
  • sciatica
  • shingles
  • vasculitis

Women in their third trimester of pregnancy can also commonly experience tingling and numbness in the limbs due to body swelling that puts pressure on nerves.

When Should I Seek Medical Help?

Seek immediate emergency medical treatment if you experience the following symptoms related to (or in addition to) numbness:

  • numbness of an entire arm or leg
  • confusion
  • numbness after a recent head injury
  • sudden headache
  • sudden onset
  • trouble speaking
  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • weakness or paralysis

You should make an appointment to see a doctor if your symptoms do the following:

  • affect only a portion of a limb, such as the toes or fingers
  • worsen gradually and without obvious cause
  • worsen with repetitive motions (such as heavy computer use)

How Is Numbness of Limbs Diagnosed?

Because limb numbness can be due to many factors, doctors often use a comprehensive workup to determine the symptom’s cause. This includes:

Taking a medical history

A doctor will ask about previous health conditions as well as when the numbness started. Examples of questions a doctor may ask are: “How long do your limbs feel numb?” and “Have you recently experienced any injuries or falls?”

Conducting a physical examination

A doctor will examine you and test for neurological function. This includes testing your reflexes, muscle strength, and sensory functions. A doctor may test to see if the patient can feel various sensations, such as a pinprick or light touch on both sides of the body.

Of special interest is where and to what extent a patient is experiencing numbness of limbs. For example, numbness on both sides of the body can indicate a brain lesion while numbness in only a part of a limb can indicate peripheral nerve damage.

Performing clinical testing

Further imaging and blood tests may be needed to make a diagnosis. These include MRI or CT scans to better visualize the brain to check for stroke or tumor. Blood tests a doctor may order include:

  • complete blood count
  • electrolyte panel
  • renal function test
  • glucose measurement
  • vitamin B-12 level
  • thyroid-stimulating hormone test

How Is Numbness of Limbs Treated?

Treatments for numbness of limbs depend upon the cause your doctor identifies. If the numbness is in a person’s feet and affects their ability to walk, wearing socks and shoes that fit well, even when at home, can help prevent further injury and damage to the feet. People with numbness in their feet may also require gait training, which is a physical therapy rehab method, to help them practice walking with numbness.

Those who experience numbness in the fingers and hands should also take precautions to prevent burns. This includes avoiding fires, hot water, and other sources of heat. Numbness can affect your ability to sense hot items.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when nerves malfunction because they're damaged or destroyed. You'll notice a tingling, numbness, or weakness, and possibly sweating, constipation, or diarrhea.

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Radiculopathy refers to disease of the spinal nerve roots. Radiculopathy produces pain , numbness, or weakness radiating from the spine.

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Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral vascular disease is a circulation disorder caused by plaque build-up in peripheral arteries. It typically affects the arteries that supply blood to the arms, legs, and organs located below the stomach.

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Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of types 1 and 2 diabetes due to uncontrolled high blood sugar levels that result in damage to the nerves. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), between 6...

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Neuralgia is a stabbing, burning, and often quite severe pain that occurs along a damaged nerve. It has several causes, from shingles to diabetes or multiple sclerosis.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Exposure of the skin to extreme or prolonged cold can result in frostbite. Lesions on the skin are one sign of extreme frostbite.

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Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spinal column narrows, gradually compressing the spinal cord. If the narrowing is minimal, symptoms won't occur. Too much narrowing can compress the nerves and cause problems.

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Slipped (Herniated) Disk

The vertebrae in your spine are cushioned by disks composed of a hard outer ring with a gelatinous material inside. Injury or weakness can cause the inner portion of the disk to break through the outer portion.

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Vertebrobasilar Circulatory Disorders

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders are a group of diseases in which not enough blood is supplied to the back of the brain. Symptoms depend on the cause, but may include vision and sleep problems, dizziness, and more.

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Guillain-Barre Syndrome

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare but serious autoimmune disorder. An infectious disease, like the stomach flu or a lung infection, usually triggers it.

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Beriberi is a term used for vitamin B1, or thiamine, deficiency. Vitamin B1 is found in foods like milk, beans, vegetables, meat, and whole grains.

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Leprosy is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection that primarily affects the nerves of the extremities, lining of the nose, and upper respiratory tract. It can cause numbness or dulled sensation.

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Osteomalacia is a weakening of the bones due to problems with bone formation or the bone building process. It is not the same as osteoporosis, which is a weakening of living bone that has already been formed and i...

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Snake Bites

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A venomous snake bite can be deadly and is a medical emergency. Even a bite from a harmless snake can cause infection or an allergic reaction, producing symptoms like pain and swelling, convulsions, nausea, or paralysis.

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Cervical Spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis, also known as cervical osteoarthritis or neck arthritis, is an age-related condition that affects the joints and discs in your neck.

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Necrotizing Vasculitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Necrotizing vasculitis is the inflammation of blood vessel walls. It can interrupt blood flow, causing skin, muscle, and blood vessel damage, and death of tissues and organs. Its symptoms can affect the entire body.

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Intracerebral Hemorrhage

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) is when blood suddenly bursts into brain tissue, causing damage to the brain. Symptoms usually appear suddenly during ICH.

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Stroke Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A stroke (a "brain attack") is a medical emergency in which part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. This occurs when an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the brain becomes damaged and brain cells begin to die.

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Brain Aneurysm

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An aneurysm in the brain is a weak area in an artery in the brain that bulges out and fills with blood. It can be unpredictable and life-threatening, and can cause extremely serious conditions.

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Mini Stroke (Transient Ischemic Attack)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

During a transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini stroke) blood stops flowing to the brain for a short period of time. TIA doesn't kill brain cells like a stroke does. TIA causes symptoms that mimic those of a stroke.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.