Paresthesia is a burning, prickling, itching, or tingling "pins and needles" skin sensation that often happens without warning. It occurs mostly in the hands, arms, legs, and feet but can also affect other body parts.
Anyone who has had a foot "fall asleep" has experienced temporary paresthesia. Pressure placed on the foot for too long compresses the nerves and keeps them from sending messages back to the brain normally. Because the connection is cut off, you don't feel anything (numbness). When the pressure lets up, the feeling comes back slowly, often with pain or a tingling sensation.
Chronic (or long-lasting) paresthesia can be a symptom of various medical conditions involving the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves). Some examples include multiple sclerosis, stroke, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), tumors on the brain or spinal cord, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Certain medications and anxiety disorders can also cause paresthesia.
Paresthesia can be a short-term nuisance or an aggravating symptom of a serious medical condition. If you or a family member experiences persistent paresthesia, see a doctor for evaluation.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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