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General Medical Questions
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Question : My wife has numb feet and legs a lot. What causes this?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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December 07, 2011
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A:

When people have numbness in both feet, the first diagnosis I consider is peripheral neuropathy. It is a nerve disease that affects branches of nerves that are farthest away from where they’re rooted in the spinal cord. That is why the symptoms usually start in the feet. Then later it may affect the hands. It can also cause tingling and pain.

These conditions can cause peripheral neuropathy:

  • Diabetes (the most common cause)
  • A genetic disorder (inherited from one or both parents)
  • A vitamin or mineral deficiency (such as B12 deficiency)
  • Overuse of alcohol
  • An infection (such as HIV or Lyme disease)
  • An auto-immune disease (such as vasculitis)
  • Exposure to a poison or toxin, such as arsenic, lead or mercury (this is very rare)

Sometimes there’s no specific reason for this nerve disease. This is called idiopathic peripheral neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy can cause numbness in the ankles and part way up the lower legs. But it usually doesn’t go all the way up the legs. Is her numbness in most of both legs? Then I would worry about something affecting the spinal cord or the nerves just after they leave the spinal cord.

Another condition could be less blood flow to her legs. This happens most often in people with atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). There are other less common blood vessel problems that also can cause numbness.

Your wife should definitely make an appointment with her doctor to evaluate these symptoms.

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