acroparesthesia

[ ăk′rō-păr′ĭs-thēzhə ]

n.

Numbness, tingling, or other abnormal sensations in one or more of the extremities.

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The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

ABOUT THIS WORD

What is acroparesthesia?

Acroparesthesia is a tingling, prickling, burning, or numb feeling in the hands or feet. These feelings, which can be very painful, are sometimes the result of compressed nerves in the affected areas.

Acroparesthesia is a form of paresthesia, which is an abnormal sensation in the body, such as prickling or itching. You have probably experienced mild, temporary paresthesia if you’ve ever felt pins and needles when your foot, say, has fallen asleep after crossing your legs for too long.

Paresthesia is a neurological condition. Chronic paresthesia can be caused by a variety of disorders that affect the nervous system, including carpal tunnel syndrome, stroke, and multiple sclerosis.

Acroparesthesia is one of the major symptoms of Fabry disease, a rare genetic disorder. In people with this disease, episodes of acroparesthesia can be especially intense and severe.

Two kinds of acroparesthesia are classified as peripheral vascular diseases, which especially affect blood vessels outside the heart that convey blood to the extremities of the body. Atherosclerosis, or when fatty substances result in the buildup of plaque on artery walls, is the leading cause of peripheral vascular disease.

The first kind is simple acroparesthesia, also known as Schultze’s type, and is named for Friedrich Schultze, a German neurologist who notably described acroparesthesia in the 1890s. The second is vasomotor acroparesthesia, or Nothnagel’s type, after another German neurologist, Hermann Nothnagel.

Schultze and Nothnagel provided some of the earliest accounts of acroparesthesia. Some researchers maintain that, today, most of the early patients with acroparesthesia would actually be diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.

While uncommonly used outside of medical and scientific contexts, acroparesthesia received some popular attention—and concern—during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. In a small percentage of patients, doctors found that some people infected with COVID-19 showed signs of neurological conditions, including seizures, strokes, and acroparesthesia.

Where does acroparesthesia come from?

Acroparesthesia is first recorded in the late 1800s. The word is composed of the combining form acro- and paresthesia.

Let’s take these parts one at a time. This is a deep dive, yes, but we think you’ll see that knowing a little Greek can help make a daunting technical term like acroparesthesia a little more manageable. You might apply this learning to other challenging words.

Acro- is a combining form that variously means “height, tip end, extremities of the body.” (Bodily extremities refers to the limbs, especially the hands and feet.) Acrophobia, for example, is the fear of heights. Acro- derives from the Greek ákros, “topmost, highest.” This word is also at the root of such words as acrobat and acropolis.

Now, to paresthesia. Paresthesia, to review from above, refers to an abnormal sensation, such as prickling or itching. Recorded since the mid-1800s, paresthesia is also made up of Greek roots.

Par- is a variant of the prefix para-, which is ultimately from the Greek preposition pará, meaning “beside, beyond,” among other senses. Parabola and paradox are two familiar words that feature this prefix.

The prefix para- became extended to mean “abnormal” or “defective,” especially in medical contexts. This sense development would appear to be influenced by such words as paralysis or paraplegia.

Now, the second part of paresthesia is esthesia, which means “capacity for feeling or sensation; sensitivity.” It comes from the Greek aísthēsi, “sensation, perception.” Consider the word anesthesia, which literally means “lack of feeling.”

Putting it all together, acroparesthesia has the literal sense of, well, abnormal (par-) sensation (esthesia) in the body’s extremities (acro-).

In British English, acroparesthesia is spelled acroparaesthesia. The plural form of acroparesthesia can be either acroparesthesiae or acroparesthesias.