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    Definition of numbness

    Numbness describes a loss of sensation or feeling in a part of your body. Numbness often is accompanied by other changes in sensation, such as a pins-and-needles feeling, burning or tingling. Numbness can occur along a single nerve, or it may occur on both sides of the body in a symmetrical pattern.

    Causes of numbness

    Numbness is usually caused by damage, irritation or compression of several nerves or a single branch of a nerve, most often situated in the periphery of your body. Diseases affecting the peripheral nerves, such as diabetes, also can cause numbness. Rarely, numbness can be caused by problems in your brain or spinal cord.

    Fortunately, numbness by itself 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.

    1. Acoustic neuroma
    2. Alcoholism or chronic alcohol use
    3. Amyloidosis
    4. Brachial plexus injury
    5. Brain aneurysm
    6. Brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation)
    7. Brain tumor
    8. Carpal tunnel syndrome
    9. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
    10. Diabetes
    11. Fabry’s disease
    12. Guillain-Barre syndrome
    13. Herniated disk
    14. Leprosy
    15. Lyme disease
    16. Multiple sclerosis
    17. Paraneoplastic syndromes of the nervous system
    18. Peripheral nerve compression (ulnar or peroneal nerves)
    19. Peripheral neuropathy
    20. Raynaud’s disease
    21. Shingles
    22. Side effects of chemotherapy or anti-HIV drugs
    23. Sjogren’s syndrome
    24. Spinal cord injury
    25. Spinal tumor
    26. Stroke
    27. Syphilis
    28. Thoracic aortic aneurysm
    29. Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
    30. Uremia
    31. Vasculitis (blood vessel inflammation)
    32. 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 go to the emergency room 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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