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Carpal Tunnel Strikes Slowly and Steadily

Tingling in wrist or hand may be first sign of the syndrome

SUNDAY, April 27, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Beware of that tingling or numbness in your wrist or hand. It could be the start of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

CTS is a painful progressive condition caused by compression of the median nerve, which runs from your forearm to your hand, says the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Symptoms of CTS usually start gradually with frequent burning, tingling or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and fingers. Some people with CTS say their fingers feel swollen, even when there is little or no apparent swelling.

CTS symptoms often appear in one hand or both hands during the night. That's because many people sleep with flexed wrists. Someone with CTS may wake up feeling the need to "shake out" a hand or wrist.

As CTS gets worse, a person may feel tingling during the day and then may notice that decreased grip strength makes it difficult to grab small objects or perform some manual tasks. Some people become unable to use touch to tell the difference between hot and cold.

In 1998, about three out of every 10,000 American workers had to take time off work because of CTS. Half of those workers missed more than 10 days of work. Medical bills and lost time from work result in an average lifetime cost of $30,000 for each worker who suffers from CTS.

Women are three times more likely than men to develop CTS. That may be due to the fact that the carpal tunnel in women is smaller than in men. For most people afflicted with CTS, the dominant hand is affected first and has the most severe pain.

While not confined to a specific industry or job, it is common in people who do assembly line work in manufacturing or meat, fish and poultry packing. CTS is three times more common among people who do assembly work than among people who data entry.

Treatment for CTS includes drugs, exercise, acupuncture and chiropractic and different forms of surgery.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about carpal tunnel syndrome.

SOURCE: U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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