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What causes tingling in my fingers?

Tingling in the fingers is a condition called peripheral neuropathy.

Carpal tunnel is a common cause of tingling in the fingers. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Carpal tunnel is a common cause of tingling in the fingers.

What Causes Tingling in My Fingers

One of the answers to the common question "What causes tingling in my fingers?" is a condition known as peripheral neuropathy, or damage to the peripheral nervous system (PNS). According to The Neuropathy Association, about 20 million Americans suffer from peripheral neuropathy.

The PNS is a complex set of nerves that sends sensory information from every part of the body, including the extremities, to the spinal cord and brain. When sensory nerves are damaged, the ability to understand feeling is impaired, causing tingling. While damaging this integral set of nerves may sound frightening, the type of damage that can cause finger tingling is often as minor as sleeping in a position that puts pressure on the wrist. Temporarily pinching a nerve does not result in long-term damage and the uncomfortable tingling feeling typically resolves quickly.

Isolated finger tingling can be caused by injury to the arm or hand, resulting in compression or damage to nerves traveling to the fingers. However, if the tingling in the fingers is accompanied by numbness in the hands and feet, multiple nerves in the PNS have likely sustained damage. This form of peripheral neuropathy can be a symptom of a more serious disease or condition. Therefore, those who experience tingling fingers along with numbness in other parts of the body should see a doctor immediately to avoid permanent damage. Additionally, a person who experiences a sudden onset of tingling in the fingers without a precipitating cause such as trauma may be having a stroke. Any sudden tingling sensation should not be taken lightly, as seeking treatment as soon as symptoms present can prevent the permanent damage of a stroke.

Tingling Fingers Caused by Injury

Finger tingling without any other symptoms is most commonly the result of injury to the radial nerve, median nerve or ulnar nerve, which together supply feeling to all five fingers of each hand. The nerve may be partially severed, crushed, compressed or stretched, causing tingling. Injuries include severe trauma, over-extending the wrist or putting prolonged pressure on wrist or hand. While some nerve injuries will resolve on their own, medical attention should be sought if the tingling lasts for more than a few days.

Carpal Tunnel Causing Tingling Fingers

Tingling and numbness in the fingers and hands are the earliest symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. The tingling centers on the thumb, index and middle fingers and is caused by compression of the median nerve in the forearm by the surrounding ligament and bones. The tingling often initially occurs at night, but as the condition gets worse it is also felt during the day. Women are pre-disposed to the condition because in smaller wrists the median nerve is more prone to compression. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, carpal tunnel syndrome is three times more prevalent in women than men.

Tingling Fingers Caused by Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that attacks the body's central nervous system. MS patients can experience finger tingling due to interference with nerves in the central nervous system rather than the peripheral nervous system. All nerves are protected by myelin. In a person with MS, the myelin surrounding nerves in the central nervous system is attacked by the body, resulting in scar tissue, which distorts messages sent back to the brain. As a result, the patient may experience symptoms that commonly include weakness, dizziness, loss of bladder or bowel control, fatigue and numbness of the extremities. While experiencing numbness or tingling in the fingers is not a definite indicator of MS, it is often one of the first symptoms of the disease. Therefore, a person who experiences prolonged numbness of the extremities along with any of the other common symptoms of MS should seek medical attention.

People of any age can develop MS; however, it is usually diagnosed when the patient is between 20 and 50 years old. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, women are 2 to 3 times more likely than men to be diagnosed with this chronic disease.

Doctors can treat the symptoms of MS, including finger tingling, with medications. While there are no drugs that can get rid of the tingling, corticosteroids are prescribed in severe cases to temporarily bring some sensation back to the fingers and other extremities for MS patients.

Life-Threatening Cause of Tingling Fingers

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disorder that causes the immune system to attack the nervous system, resulting in increased muscle weakness that spreads rapidly. This serious disorder often occurs after a person has recovered from a minor infection. It affects both males and females, most commonly between the ages of 30 and 50. One of the first signs of Guillain-Barre syndrome is tingling and numbness in the arms, hands, legs and feet. Numbness may start in the upper body, lower body or both areas at the same time.

While Guillain-Barre is extremely rare, tingling in both hands at the same time could be an indicator of the syndrome. Medical attention should be sought immediately if the tingling is accompanied by blurred vision, difficulty breathing, slurred speech, drooling or fainting. Doctors will test for muscle weakness and nerve damage to diagnose the condition.

Other Causes of Tingling Fingers

A variety of other medical conditions can cause peripheral neuropathy, including:

  • Diabetes, resulting in chronic high glucose levels that is damaging to nerves. Though tingling generally starts in the feet of diabetic patients, it can spread to the hands and fingers.
  • Kidney disease, leading to high levels of toxic substances in the blood, which damages nerves.
  • Exposure to poisons, such as heavy metals like arsenic, lead or mercury.
  • Vitamin deficiencies, including a lack of B vitamins, vitamin E and niacin.

Cancer patients also often experience peripheral neuropathy, which can include tingling fingers, due to ongoing radiation treatments that exposes them to high levels of toxic medications. The University of Florida Shands Cancer Center provides a list of several medications given to cancer patients that may cause tingling fingers.

Relief for Tingling Fingers

Proper treatment to relieve tingling fingers depends on the condition that causes the tingling sensation. Once the condition is treated, the tingling will often subside. A doctor can also prescribe medications or other treatments to help patients deal with tingling finger pain. Some medications that have helped treat tingling fingers include pain relievers, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications and lidocaine patches.

If there is pressure on nerves or blood vessels, this must be reduced for the tingling to subside. Treatments to relieve pressure include therapy, massage, medications and acupuncture. If the tingling is due to an injury or condition that causes swelling in the arms, wrists or hands (such as carpal tunnel syndrome), ice packs can lessen swelling and relieve tingling in the fingers.

If nerve damage has occurred, a doctor may perform transcutaneous nerve stimulation. The process, which promotes regrowth of nerves, uses electrodes attached to the hands to send electrical impulses to the nerve.

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