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What causes a feeling of dormancy in hands and feet? (Mayumi Okuyama, via e-mail)

Leo RamosWhen people cross their legs or sleep with an arm underneath their body, peripheral nerves may be compressed, affecting the circulation of blood within them. If the compression is not strong and stops quickly, circulation recovers and the dormancy disappears.

However, other lesions can have more serious and lasting consequences. This is the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, frequent among manual workers. It derives from the strangulation of a nerve in the wrist and depending on how serious it is, can require clinical or surgical treatment.

However, pins and needles do not always have a mechanical cause. In alcoholism, the toxicity of the beverage or a lack of vitamin B1, normally found in cereals and vegetables, may generate dormancy. The dysfunction disappears provided the person stops consuming alcoholic beverages and starts to eat properly, before the lesion becomes irreversible.

Other illnesses can also lead to pins and needles. Among diabetics, this neuropathy is caused by a metabolic dysfunction of the nerve and becomes permanent if the disease is not kept under control. In Hansen’s disease, the feeling is cause by the multiplication of Hansen’s bacilli within the nerve and by the immunological response of the sick person. If it is not treated from the onset, the damage may be irreversible.

Wilson Marques Junior
Ribeirão Preto School of Medicine
University of São Paulo (FMRP/USP)

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