What is tingling?
Tingling (paresthesia) is an unusual sensation most commonly felt in your hands, feet, arms and legs. Tingling is often associated with numbness, or a decrease in the ability to feel or sense pressure or texture.
Tingling can be associated with a wide variety of conditions, including prolonged pressure on a nerve, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, causing weakness, coordination and balance difficulties, and other problems), and stroke, among many others.
Tingling can be mild and result from simple pressure on a nerve, such as when your foot or leg falls asleep when you are seated in the same position for a long time. Tingling can also be a symptom of more serious permanent nerve damage or underlying disease. Therefore, it is important to identify the cause of any unexplained or unusual tingling.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, experience serious symptoms, such as the sudden onset of unexplained tingling; weakness or numbness on just one side of your body; sudden severe headache; sudden loss of vision or vision changes; changes in speech such as garbled or slurred speech; or the onset of tingling following a head, neck or back injury.
If your tingling is persistent, unexplained, or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.
What other symptoms might occur with tingling?
Tingling may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.
Common symptoms that may occur along with tingling
Tingling may accompany other symptoms including:
- Bluish or cold skin in the same or nearby area
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness in the same or nearby area
- Pain in the same or nearby area
- Rash, especially a rash that occurs in a band on one side of the torso
- Seizures or convulsions
- Sudden change in vision, loss of vision, or eye pain
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, tingling may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:
Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
Fecal incontinence (inability to control stools)
Garbled or slurred speech or inability to speak
Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
Paresthesia following a head, neck or back injury
What causes tingling?
Tingling can be caused by a wide variety of conditions. The most common cause of tingling is a compressed nerve. Other causes of tingling include head and neck injuries, loss of blood flow to an area, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, and diseases such as multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, causing weakness, coordination and balance difficulties, and other problems), among many other causes.
Compression-related causes of tingling
Tingling may be caused by compression injury including:
A fracture or dislocation that compresses a nerve
A herniated disk that compresses a nerve
A neck or back injury that compresses or injures the spinal cord or a nerve
Head injury that causes pressure or swelling
Pressure on a nerve from a growing mass or tumor
Remaining in the same position for too long, resulting in a compressed nerve
Disease-related causes of tingling
Tingling can also be caused by a variety of diseases or conditions including:
Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
Inactive or underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination and balance difficulties, and other problems)
Seizures or convulsions
Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)
Other causes of tingling
Tingling can also be caused by a variety of other conditions including:
Alcohol or tobacco abuse
Deficiency or excess of various minerals such as calcium, sodium or potassium
Heavy metal poisoning
Medication side effects or interactions
Radiation exposure or radiation therapy
Serious or life-threatening causes of tingling
In some cases, tingling may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions include:
- Head, neck or back injury
Questions for diagnosing the cause of tingling
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your tingling including:
When did you first notice the tingling?
Have you had any recent injuries that preceded the tingling?
Do you have any other symptoms associated with your tingling?
Where on your body do you notice the tingling?
Is the tingling better or worse at any certain time of day?
Is the tingling improving or getting worse?
Do you get the tingling when doing a repetitive motion, such as typing or sitting for long periods?
What medications are you taking?
What are the potential complications of tingling?
Tingling is a sign that your nerves are malfunctioning. The complications of tingling vary widely, depending on the underlying cause.
Because tingling can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Coma or unconsciousness
- Loss of vision and blindness
- Spread of cancer
- Weakness (loss of strength)