What is arm paresthesia?
Arm paresthesia is a sensation of tingling (feeling of “pins and needles”) or burning in the arm that occurs without stimulation. It can result from a previous arm injury or pressure on a nerve in the arm. Other causes include damage to nerves in the arm from exposure to extreme heat or cold or to toxic compounds. Arm paresthesia can also be a feature of certain diseases or conditions, including multiple sclerosis and lupus.
Alternatively, arm paresthesia may be caused by peripheral neuropathy, a disorder in which the nerves that relay signals between the body and the brain and spinal cord do not function properly. Peripheral neuropathy can be due to a number of specific diseases and disorders, including diabetes and Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune nerve disorder. Alcohol abuse and vitamin deficiencies are further common causes of peripheral neuropathy and arm paresthesia. Anticancer chemotherapy and some antibiotics can also cause paresthesia.
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Arm paresthesia may also be a symptom of myocardial ischemia (reduced blood flow to the heart muscle) or heart attack. Arm paresthesia, particularly when localized to one side of the body and with sudden onset, can be a symptom of stroke.
The duration and course of arm paresthesia vary widely, depending on the cause. Symptoms caused by injury often have a sudden onset. In other cases, arm paresthesia caused by underlying neuropathy develops slowly and persists or worsens over time.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if a sudden arm paresthesia is accompanied by numbness or weakness of the arm or fingers on one side of your body; a change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness; chest pain or pressure; difficulty breathing; or the worst headache of your life, as these can be signs of stroke.
If your arm paresthesia is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.
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- NINDS Paresthesia Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/paresthesia/paresthesia.htm.
- Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/peripheralneuropathy/detail_peripheralneuropathy.htm.
- Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.