Tingling in hands and feet
Tingling in the hands or feet is common and can be a long-term or temporary symptom.
In many cases, the pins and needles feeling can be caused by a sitting or sleeping position and is nothing to worry about.
However, if the tingling hands or feet come with other symptoms, like numbness, itching, pain or muscle wasting it can be a sign of nerve damage. This can be the result of diseases such as diabetes, a bacterial or viral infection, toxic exposure or an injury.
The medical term for this nerve damage is peripheral neuropathy and it’s estimated almost 1 in 10 people in the UK aged 55 or over is affected to some degree.
There are more than 100 different types of peripheral neuropathy and over time it can result in decreased mobility and even disability. That’s why it's important to seek medical advice promptly.
Causes of tingling in the hands and feet
In the UK, diabetes is the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy. Between 10% and 20% of people recently diagnosed with diabetes will have a peripheral neuropathy, called peripheral polyneuropathy. In diabetic polyneuropathy, tingling often first develops in both feet and then goes up the legs, followed by tingling that affects both hands and goes up the arms. These are often the first signs of diabetes.
In a number of peripheral neuropathy cases, the cause is 'idiopathic' which means what the cause is isn’t known. However, there are a variety of conditions that can cause the condition such as:
Vitamin deficiencies. Vitamins E, B1, B6, B12 and niacin are essential for healthy nerve function. A lack of B12 can lead to pernicious anaemia, an important cause of peripheral neuropathy. However, too much B6 can also cause tingling in the hands and feet.
Alcoholism. Alcoholics are more likely to have vitamin deficiencies because of poor dietary habits. It’s also possible that alcoholism can cause nerve damage. Some researchers call this alcoholic neuropathy.
Systemic diseases. These include kidney disorders, liver disease, connective tissue disorders, hypothyroidism, and cancers and benign tumours that impinge on nerves.
Nerve entrapment syndromes. These include carpal tunnel syndrome, ulnar nerve palsy, peroneal nerve palsy and radial nerve palsy.
Toxins. These include heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury, and some industrial and environmental chemicals. It also includes certain medications, especially some chemotherapy drugs used for cancer, and also some antiviral and antibiotic drugs.
Infections. These include Lyme disease, shingles, the Epstein-Barr virus, herpes simplex and HIV/AIDS.
Autoimmune diseases. These include Guillain-Barre syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and MS.
Inherited disorders. These include a group of disorders known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
Injury. Nerves can be compressed, crushed or damaged, resulting in nerve pain. Examples include nerve compression caused by a herniated disc or dislocated bone.