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Tingling in Hands and Feet

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Tingling hands, feet, or both is an extremely common and bothersome symptom. Such tingling can sometimes be benign and temporary. For example, it could result from pressure on nerves when your arm is crooked under your head as you fall asleep. Or it could be from pressure on nerves when you cross your legs too long. In either case, the "pins and needles" effect -- which is usually painless -- is soon relieved by removing the pressure that caused it.

In many cases, however, tingling in the hands, feet, or both can be severe, episodic, or chronic. It also can accompany other symptoms. such as pain, itching, numbness, and muscle wasting. In such cases, tingling may be a sign of nerve damage, which can result from causes as varied as traumatic injuries or repetitive stress injuries, bacterial or viral infections, toxic exposures, and systemic diseases such as diabetes.

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Such nerve damage is known as peripheral neuropathy because it affects nerves distant from the brain and spinal cord, often in the hands and feet. There are more than 100 different types of peripheral neuropathy. Over time, peripheral neuropathy can worsen, resulting in decreased mobility and even disability. More than 20 million Americans, most of them older adults, are estimated to have peripheral neuropathy.

It's important to seek prompt medical evaluation for any persistent tingling in your hands, feet, or both. The earlier the underlying cause of your tingling is identified and brought under control, the less likely you are to suffer potentially lifelong consequences.

Causes of Tingling in the Hands and Feet

Diabetes is one of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy, accounting for about 30% of cases. In diabetic neuropathy, tingling and other symptoms often first develop in both feet and go up the legs, followed by tingling and other symptoms that affect both hands and go up the arms. About two-thirds of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nerve damage. In many cases, these symptoms are the first signs of diabetes.

In another 30% of peripheral neuropathy cases, the cause is unknown or "idiopathic."

The remaining 40% of cases have a variety of causes such as:

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