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Pins and needles as a sign of epilepsy

Updated February 21, 2019

According to the Mayo Clinic, the condition of epilepsy can only be diagnosed after two or more unprovoked seizures. These seizures are caused by the brain's electrical signals---the wrong signals cause parts of the body to malfunction or shut down temporarily. One possible sign of a seizure is a tingling "pins and needles" feeling, like when a limb or extremity falls asleep.

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Basic Facts About Epilepsy

Epilepsy causes abnormal brain activity, which in turn causes unprovoked seizures. The effects of the abnormal activity range from mental confusion to uncontrollable limb movements to loss of consciousness. Doctors can diagnose epilepsy with an electroencephalogram (EEG)---this test reveals the patient's abnormal brain activity, and if doctors can link this activity with the onset of a seizure, a diagnosis of epilepsy is likely.


Doctors can only pinpoint the cause of epilepsy in about half their cases. Sometimes, epilepsy is genetic, while other times it is cause by a traumatic injury (often prenatal), stroke, dementia, autism, Down's syndrome or a disease such as meningitis or AIDS.

Pins and Needles and Partial Seizures

Seizures are labelled as partial or generalised, depending on where the abnormal brain activity is located. Partial seizures do not result in losing consciousness---this is where the pins and needles feeling comes into play. Tingling is an indicator of a simple partial seizure, as is vertigo or sudden jerking limb movement. The best way to link a pins and needles feeling to epilepsy is to have a doctor perform an EEG while the tingling sensation is present.

Stress Convulsions Versus Seizures

Sometimes the body's response to stress creates a situation that seems like an epilepsy-related seizure but is actually provoked by an external stressor. These provoked seizures are not a sign of epilepsy. Provoked seizures include fainting or loss of consciousness due to low blood sugar, fear, heart disease, lack of blood to the brain and migraine headaches. According to Dr. Mogens Dam, former president of the Danish Epilepsy Society, migraine sufferers often experience a pins and needles feeling in a limb or the face. If this symptom develops in minutes, it is not likely to be epilepsy-related; however, if it develops in a few seconds, this is symptomatic of an epileptic-style seizure.

Other Possible Causes for Pins and Needles

The pins and needles feeling can also be caused by a panic attack. When under intense stress, people tend to breathe heavily, releasing an increased amount of carbon dioxide and changing the body's acidity level. This can cause a sensation similar to pins and needles in the face, feet and hands. Another possible cause is compression neuropathy, in which the nerves are pinched or pressed and respond by producing an ongoing tingling sensation. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a type of compression neuropathy.

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About the Author

Jenni Wiltz's fiction has been published in "The Portland Review," "Sacramento News & Review" and "The Copperfield Review." She has a bachelor's degree in English and history from the University of California, Davis and is working on a master's degree in English at Sacramento State. She has worked as a grant coordinator, senior editor and advertising copywriter and has been a professional writer since 2003.

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