Suddenly having strange tingly sensations, or even pain, in your fingers and hands? It's highly likely you're suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
What is it?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a very common symptom of pregnancy – it is thought to affect more than half of pregnant women at some point, and most frequently in the second and third trimesters.
The carpal tunnel is a small passage which runs from your wrist to the bottom of your palm – it houses your median nerve, which is responsible for the feeling and movement you have in your hand. During pregnancy, when you might begin to suffer from a little water retention (or oedema for its medical term), pressure is put upon the nerve, and this can lead to some unpleasant symptoms.
The telltale signs of CTS are tingling (like pins and needles) and sometimes pain in the hand and fingers. The thumb side of the hand is most likely to be affected (so thumb, index and middle fingers, and sometimes the thumb side of the ring finger) but in the worst cases, the whole hand can be affected. If the condition worsens, the tingling can give way to numbness, and you might experience pain not only in your hand, but also aching in your wrist and forearm.
You could also notice that the affected fingers look a little swollen (always remove rings if you notice your hands are swelling) and as a result your skin might start to feel dry and a bit sore. You might lose some strength in your hand too, particularly your thumb, so be careful with hot drinks if you've noticed your grip is reduced.
What can I do?
If CTS is really affecting you, you should go and see your GP who will assess whether you might benefit from some physiotherapy, or from wearing a splint to keep your wrist straight. A splint will maximise the space in the carpal tunnel, and hopefully offer some relief, but it's not exactly the most convenient of things if you have to wear it in the day time, so perhaps try some other things first.
Often the symptoms of CTS will be worse at night, and this might be because keeping your hands and arms in one position for long periods can aggravate CTS. So if the pain or sensations are waking you up, try just shifting position, or flexing your wrists/shaking your hands gently for a short time.
The NHS advises that repetitive use of the hands, as well as exposure to vibration, is likely to make CTS worse – while you're probably unlikely to be operating a chainsaw all day in your condition, you might be playing a musical instrument, or otherwise using your hands for a manual job, so bear that in mind! Interestingly, typing is not thought to be a major issue.
As you probably know, most painkillers are out of bounds during pregnancy, but you could try taking paracetamol to relieve any pain you are experiencing. Your midwife might recommend taking some vitamin B6, but be sure to get the okay before taking any supplements.
As with so many irritating (and downright painful) symptoms of pregnancy, CTS usually goes away of its own accord – by the time your newborn baby is 12 weeks old, hopefully you'll be shot of it.
Occasionally, the symptoms can last much longer, and rarely a woman will need to undergo treatment, such as the injection of steroids into the wrist, to reduce inflammation. But take heart, that's very unlikely.
What else could it be?
CTS is usually easy to distinguish because any swelling in the hand or hands is accompanied by tingling, pins and needles or pain. However, if you notice a sudden swelling in your hands, as well as your face, and this is accompanied by headaches and nausea or vomiting, see your doctor straight away, as these can be signs of pre-eclampsia.