What Is Paresthesia? - Definition, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Paresthesia is the tingling or itching sensation more commonly referred to as 'pins and needles.' Learn what causes this peculiar sensation, possible treatment options and if you should be concerned about your symptoms.

What is Paresthesia?

Chances are you've experienced paresthesia before but just didn't know the medical term - it is the feeling of 'pins and needles' you get most commonly in the hands, arms, legs, or feet. Paresthesia is usually short-term, though some people suffer from chronic tingling, prickling, or numbness.

Why Do I Feel Pins & Needles?

Paresthesia is caused by pressure on a part of the body that cuts off the blood supply to nerves in the region. As a result, nerves stop sending signals to the brain; however, when the pressure is released, blood returns, causing the tingling or itching sensation.

A familiar scenario: you are sitting cross-legged, engrossed in Study.com's captivating lessons, for an hour. Suddenly, nature calls and when you stand up, you briefly lose your balance and suddenly get the tingling sensation through your foot and lower leg. We've all been there. Eventually the sensation goes away, but for a few minutes, you try to stay perfectly still and not so much as wiggle!

When pressure stunts blood flow (as shown by the red region in this picture), parts of the body will go numb or tingle. In this picture, the fingers will experience the tingling sensation.

Paresthesia may also be caused by a condition known as Raynaud's disease. This condition affects the blood supply to certain parts of the body and can be triggered by cold weather, anxiety, or stress. Finally, dehydration and hyperventilation (breathing too fast) can also cause temporary paresthesia.

When the sensation lasts for a long period of time, however, it can be indicative of a more serious condition, such as diabetes, or as a side effect of treatments, such as chemotherapy (a cancer treatment). Other culprits of long term paresthesia are sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, toxicity, vitamin deficiencies, alcohol abuse, or nerve damage. Identifying whether your symptoms are short term or long term (chronic) will dictate what type of treatment is (or isn't) necessary.

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