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left hand and arm numbness & pain while sleeping
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left hand and arm numbness & pain while sleeping

For the past four evenings I have woken repeatedly with pain and numbness in my left hand and arm occasionally accompanied by slight swelling. As a rule, I sleep on my side due to sleep apnea (sleeping on my side seems to help prevent snoring and closure of the airway). Additionally, during the day my grip appears to be somewhat weaker than normal. I am 51, average to good health and muscle tone but slightly overweight.
Once I awaken with the pain and numbness, I seem to be able to walk around for approx. 10 to 15 minutes with my hand hung downward and the pain and numbness decreases to a degree where I can go back to sleep - only to awaken again in an hour or two with the same symptoms. This occure throughout the night until I awaken the final time in the morning.
I'm somewhat concerned about this condition and the sudden onset as well as the fact that it occurs only in my left arm - which is always associated with heart attacks... This is also disrupting my sleep therefore I'm concerned about the effect on my temperment in this regard.
Needless to say, I would like to know what it is and redress it quickly however, due to a temporary lay off at work I am without medical insurance and living off savings for the moment, which inhibits my ability to freely seek medical attention for this.
If anyone sees this and has a good idea or suggestions please email me directly at ***@****.
Thank you..

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Avatar_dr_f_tn
Thanks for using the forum. I am happy to address your questions, and my answer will be based on the information you provided here. Please make sure you recognize that this forum is for educational purposes only, and it does not substitute for a formal office visit with your doctor.

Without the ability to examine you and obtain a history, it is difficult to provide you with a diagnosis, however, I will try to provide you with information.

As you have mentioned, left arm pain or other symptoms can be the only symptom of the heart not receiving enough blood for whatever reason (called cardiac "ischemia"). While the description of what is occurring with you does not sound cardiac, this definitely can not be ruled out at this point and a cardiac evaluation may be necessary, depending on your age, risk factors (smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc), and other symptoms.  

Another possibility is that if you are lying on your side, the same side that your symptoms are occurring, you could be compressing the arteries, nerves, or both, as they pass above the collar bone and through the axilla (armpit area). All the arteries and nerves to the arm follow this route. Cutting off the blood supply and/or pressing on the nerves to the arm will cause these symptoms that you experience. While usually reversible, repeated compression can cause permanent problems. If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, it would be highly advisable for you to use a CPAP machine or another type of mechanism to support your airway while you sleep, so that you do not necessarily have to limit the position you sleep in. Sleeping on alternating sides may also be helpful.

Another possibility is a radiculopathy, though this would most likely cause symptoms both during the day and at night, though certain positions could potentially make it worse, such as sleeping in a particular position. A radiculopathy is a problem in the nerve roots as they exit the spinal cord. This could be due to arthritis compressing on the nerves as they exit, a herniated disc, a narrow spinal canal (spinal stenosis), or other such problems in the part of the spine called the cervical spine.

I understand that you are limited by medical insurance, and paying out-of-pocket for medical care is definitely a huge expense. However, I recommend you see a general practitioner (primary care/family physician) so that he/she can obtain a full history, examine you, and be able to prioritize further testing since you do not have insurance.

Thank you for using the forum I hope you find this information useful good luck.
4 Comments
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Avatar_n_tn
Thank you for what appears to be a well thought out response which seems to cover most of the salient causes. Naturally, your comments have brought to mind additional items I certainly should have mentioned.
I am in relatively good health with average to better than average muscle tone for a man of 51 years young. I have good cholesterol, do not drink or smoke and I run (jog) most mornings with my wife. I had a full physical approx. five months ago with nothing appreciably wrong (at least my primary care physisian didn't mention anything after the test results came back). I do not have noticable arthritis however I do have what was diagnosed a couple years ago as L4 discogenic disease(?). I believe it is an unusual progressive deterioration of the disc (s).
My sleep randomly flucuates from left to right side (which side depends upon which side feels most comfortable at the moment).
Not sure if any of this helps but thought I might provide it.
The sudden onset of this is the strange thing to me. There is some continuing numbness throughout the day as well as some minor loss of grip. Of course, this too seems to randomly flucuate from NO loss of grip to significant loss of grip strength.
Incidentally, last night I awakened only once with the symptoms..
Again, any advice or suggestions are appreciated.
Finally, I feel like I will soon be back to work - God willing - and will follow up with my family practicioner once my insurance becomes effective.  
Thanks,
Gregg

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688705_tn?1230743403
Dear Gregg and Dr. Chahine,
    After having similar pains, running the gambit from minor to severe, I was diagnosed through MRIs with spinal stenosis in both the lower back (lumbar) and upper (cervical). I had a laminectomy mid-Sept, and still in PT and doing well there.
    However, the arm to hand numbness/pain is returning. I found several months ago that when I sleep ON MY BACK with head and shoulders elevated (we have an adjustable bed, thankfully), I get a little relief and it doesn't happen as often. When it's really severe, I sleep in the lounger. It seems to take pressure off the neck. I see the Dr. on Tuesday and will mention it. We were hoping to hold off on the neck surgery until after the holidays. We'll see.
    Good luck to you. Just wanted to give you a possible temporary solution to a somewhat rare problem.
Jan, Central TX
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A related discussion, About sleeping - numbness in left arm was started.
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