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Quick Facts

Numbness

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Sep 2021| Content last modified Sep 2021
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What is numbness?

Numbness is loss of feeling in part of your body. You may have less feeling than usual or no feeling at all. Numbness can be a sign of a problem with your brain or your spinal cord. With numbness, you may not be able to:

  • Feel a light touch

  • Sense pain

  • Tell hot from cold

  • Sense vibration

  • Know the position of the numb part of your body

Along with numbness, you may also have:

  • Tingling or a pins-and-needles feeling

  • Weakness

  • Paralysis (trouble moving part of your body)

Numbness can cause problems with balance and coordination. It can affect your ability to walk or drive.

When should I see a doctor for numbness?

See a doctor right away if you have numbness with any of these warning signs:

  • The numbness came on suddenly (within minutes or hours)

  • You also have weakness in part of your body that came on quickly (within hours or days)

  • The numbness or weakness quickly spread up or down your body, involving more and more parts of your body

  • An entire leg or arm is numb

  • Your face and torso are numb

  • You have numbness or weakness and trouble moving, talking, or seeing

  • Your thighs, buttocks, or genital area are numb and you are incontinent (lose control of your pee or poop)

  • The numbness is on both sides of your body below a specific point, such as below the middle of your chest

If you have numbness without these warning signs, call your doctor. Your doctor can decide how quickly to see you based on your symptoms.

What causes numbness?

When you touch something with your hand, the nerves in your hand send messages to your brain. The messages allow you to feel what you touch. Similar nerves connect all different parts of your body to your brain. Numbness happens when something goes wrong with the nerve path on which those messages travel. Many different disorders and medicines can block or put pressure on this path, such as:

Some people get numbness and tingling in their hands and around their mouth when they feel anxious and breathe too fast (hyperventilation). This isn't dangerous.

What will happen at my doctor visit?

Doctors will ask questions about your numbness and do an exam.

Doctors may do tests depending on what they think the cause may be, such as:

How do doctors treat numbness?

Doctors treat the problem that's causing your numbness.

Doctors may suggest ways to help ease symptoms and prevent other problems:

Talk with your doctor about whether it's safe for you to drive.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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OTHER TOPICS IN THIS CHAPTER
Symptoms of Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nerve Disorders
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