Sensory nerves supply or innervate particular regions of the body. Determining the distribution of symptoms is an important way to identify the nerves involved. For instance, the median nerve innervates the thumb, the first two fingers, half of the ring finger, and the part of the hand to which they connect. The ulnar nerve innervates the other half of the ring finger, the little finger, and the remainder of the hand. Distribution of symptoms may also aid diagnosis of the underlying disease. Diabetes usually causes a symmetrical "glove and stocking" distribution in the hands and feet. Multiple sclerosis may cause symptoms in several, widely separated areas.
Other symptoms may accompany paresthesias, depending on the type and severity of the nerve disturbance. For instance, weakness may accompany damage to nerves that carry both sensory and motor neurons. (Motor neurons are those that carry messages outward from the brain.)
A careful history of the patient is needed for a diagnosis of paresthesias. The medical history should focus on the onset, duration, and location of symptoms. The history may also reveal current related medical problems and recent or past exposure to drugs, toxins, infection, or trauma. The family medical history may suggest a familial disorder. A work history may reveal repetitive motion, chronic vibration, or industrial chemical exposure.
The physical and neurological examination tests for distribution of symptoms and alterations in reflexes, sensation, or strength. The distribution of symptoms may be mapped by successive stimulation over the affected area of the body.
Lab tests for paresthesia may include blood tests and urinalysis to detect metabolic or nutritional abnormalities. Other tests are used to look for specific suspected causes. Nerve conduction velocity tests, electromyography, and imaging studies of the affected area may be employed. Nerve biopsy may be indicated in selected cases.
Richard Robinson, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,