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.
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
- Difficulty talking
- 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
April 20, 2013
- Ferri FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2013: 5 Books in 1. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2012. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-08373-7..00002-9&isbn=978-0-323-08373-7&about=true&uniqId=343863096-23. Accessed Feb. 1, 2013.
- Stroke: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/stroke/detail_stroke.htm. Accessed Feb. 1, 2013.
- Rosenfeld J, et al. Numbness: A practical guide for family physicians. American Academy of Neurology. http://www.aan.com/familypractice/pdf/FINAL%20NUMBNESS%203.pdf. Accessed Feb. 2, 2013.
- Raynaud's disease. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/raynaud/ray_all.html. Accessed Feb. 1, 2013.
- Numbness. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/about-multiple-sclerosis/what-we-know-about-ms/symptoms/numbness/index.aspx. Accessed Feb. 1, 2013.
- Neuropathy (nerve damage). American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/neuropathy/. Accessed Feb. 1, 2013.
- Stabler SP. Vitamin B12 deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine. 2013;368:149.
- Vestibular schwannoma (acoustic neuroma) and neurofibromatosis. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/acoustic_neuroma.asp. Accessed Feb. 1, 2013.