Authors: Aaron Kandola and Bethany Grayland-Leech
Numbness in the right arm has many possible causes, including nerve damage and restrictions in blood flow.
Depending on the cause, a person with this symptom may also experience tingling or weakness. In some cases, these symptoms may be temporary. However, if they persist or accompanying symptoms occur, it is important to consult a doctor.
This article discusses the potential causes of numbness in the right arm. It also looks at the other symptoms that these conditions can cause and the treatment options.
A lack of blood flowing through the right arm could cause numbness and tingling in the area. It may also cause swelling or discoloration.
There are many possible causes of restricted blood flow to the arms. For example, sleeping with the arm underneath the body puts pressure on the arm, preventing blood flow.
Some medical conditions might also cause problems with blood circulation that can lead to numbness, such as:
- Atherosclerosis: This condition occurs when blood vessels narrow over time due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol, causing reductions in blood flow. People with atherosclerosis may require a combination of medications for blood pressure and lowering cholesterol.
- Vasculitis: Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels, which increases the risk of clots and blockages.
- Diabetes: High blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels, meaning that the blood has to find an alternative route. Managing diabetes through the diet and using insulin may help prevent or reduce these symptoms.
Obesity, smoking, and a family history of these conditions may make it more likely that a person will develop them.
In cases where a person has slept with their arm underneath their body, the symptoms are temporary and will go away after removing the pressure.
Otherwise, the treatment options will depend on the underlying cause.
Learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of low circulation.
Nerves carry signals between the brain and the rest of the body. However, if a nerve becomes damaged or compressed, a person may experience pain, tingling, or numbness in a specific area of the body.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of pressure on the median nerve in the hand. The symptoms include numbness, weakness, and pain. These symptoms typically appear in the hand, but they can also affect the arm and wrist.
Nerve damage can also occur due to an underlying health condition. Many conditions may lead to nerve damage or peripheral neuropathy, including:
- physical injury
- vitamin deficiencies, such as a vitamin B12 deficiency
- autoimmune diseases, such as lupus
- kidney and liver conditions
- some infections, such as Lyme disease and HIV
It is possible to treat carpal tunnel syndrome by relieving pressure on the nerve. Sometimes, doctors do this by applying a splint.
People can also apply ice and use over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Soft disks provide a cushion for each of the vertebrae — the bones in the spine. A herniated disk occurs when a disk protrudes from the spinal column, potentially due to strain or injury.
A herniated disk can put pressure on the nerves that run down the arms, leading to pain, numbness, or tingling.
The treatment for a herniated disk might include physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medication. In rare cases, a person might need surgery.
A stroke occurs when something — such as a blood clot or burst blood vessel — suddenly restricts the blood flow to the brain. There are several types of stroke.
The most recognizable symptoms of a stroke are:
- face drooping
- arm weakness
- slurred speech or difficulty talking
However, strokes can also cause:
- sudden numbness in the limbs, often on one side of the body
- vision problems
- trouble walking
- a sudden, severe headache
Anyone having symptoms of a stroke will need immediate medical care.
The treatment options will depend on whether the stroke occurred due to a clot or a bleed. For clots, a doctor may use medications to thin the blood. In some cases, they may need to perform surgery to remove a clot.
Doctors will recommend making certain lifestyle changes, if applicable, to reduce the risk of another stroke. These may include eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking.
Can right arm numbness be a sign of a heart attack?
Numbness or pain in the right arm can be a sign of a heart attack. According to the American Heart Association (AHA) one possible symptom of a heart attack is discomfort or pain in one or both arms.
However, there are many potential causes of right arm numbness.
For males and females, the most common sign of a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort. Other signs of a heart attack can include:
- discomfort at the center of the chest, lasting more than a few minutes
- pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- shortness of breath
Females are more likely than males to experience other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea, or vomiting, alongside chest pain.
Anyone who suspects that they are having a heart attack should call 911 or their local emergency number immediately.
The treatment options will depend on the type of heart attack. In the short term, doctors aim to restore blood flow to the heart. This may involve surgery, medications, or dual antiplatelet therapy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that high blood pressure does not cause any symptoms. Most people are not aware that they have high blood pressure and only find this out when they or a doctor takes a measurement.
However, a person may experience numbness or weakness down one side of the body if they have a hypertensive emergency.
A hypertensive emergency is an acute increase in blood pressure with signs of organ damage. This damage may include:
- pulmonary edema, which is a buildup of fluid in the lungs
- cardiac ischemia, which happens when the blood flow to the heart becomes reduced
- acute kidney failure
- neurological dysfunction, which refers to a disorder of the central nervous system
- eclampsia, which is when high blood pressure leads to seizures during pregnancy
- aortic dissection, which happens when a tear develops in the aorta
A 2022 article notes that neurological dysfunction results in:
- numbness or weakness on one side of the body
- aphasia, which is when a person has difficulties with speech and language
- blurry vision
- ataxia, which is a group of disorders that affect a person’s balance, coordination, and speech
Medical professionals will aim to lower a person’s blood pressure rapidly. They may do this by administering IV drips that contain medications such as labetalol, nicardipine, nitroglycerin, and esmolol.
If a person is pregnant, a medical professional may administer IV hydralazine or oral nifedipine.
Doctors may diagnose the cause of numbness in the arm by carrying out a physical examination, medical imaging, and, if necessary, blood or urine tests.
During the physical examination, they might ask the person to perform certain movements or exercises to check for signs of nerve damage. Medical imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan, can show doctors whether there is damage inside the body.
Blood and urine tests can help diagnose underlying conditions, including diabetes and autoimmune diseases.
People with the symptoms of a heart attack, stroke, or blood clot should seek immediate treatment. Any of these conditions may cause lasting damage. In some cases, they can be life threatening.
However, if the numbness is the result of a sleep position or other pressure on the arm, it may be temporary. Relieving any pressure on the arm may get rid of the numbness.
Anyone who experiences numbness in the arm that lasts longer than a couple of days or occurs alongside other symptoms should speak with a doctor.
There are many possible causes of numbness in the right arm. Some cases are temporary and resolve on their own. In other cases, numbness may be a sign of an underlying condition or nerve damage.
A doctor can diagnose the cause of numbness in the right arm and prescribe the best treatment. In rare cases, arm numbness can be a sign of a medical emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke. Anyone experiencing the symptoms of heart attack or stroke should seek immediate medical care.