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Forum Name: Miscellaneous Chest Diseases

Question: COPD patient with left side of body numbness


 lynnkay - Thu Sep 11, 2008 8:40 pm

I was diagnosed in Oct. 2007 with moderate stage COPD. I am 51 yrs. old. Upon diagnosis I was a 35 yr. smoker. Numerous attempts to stop smoking failed since diagnosis. I am now 57 days smoke free. This is my best attempt yet and I know this time, that I am now a former smoker. So, I know I have furthered damaged my lungs, by the continuing to smoke, up until 57 days ago. I can see many differences since before diagnosis, at the time of diagnosis and now almost one year later. What is troubling me at the present is numbness in left hand. One morning in July this year, I woke up and the left ring finger and small finger were numb and tingling. Now, it has since moved down into the palm of my hand, especially on the left side of palm. This numbness has about reached the wrist area. It does not ever ease up or go away. There is much weakness in this hand now as well. I am to the point that I cannot even open a simple jar of food or get the cap up on toothpaste. I have had several near serious accidents in the kitchen, due to the numbness and weakness in this hand as well. I am beginning to now notice, that there is numbness and tingling at times in the calf of my left leg. There has been swelling in the left ankle at times. I have researched COPD in depth. I know that COPD can effect the heart, circulation, etc. I will be going to the doctor, but that is not for some weeks yet. I know only my doctor can confirm what these symptoms actually mean. But, any input by a doctor on this forum, would be so deeply appreciated. I am very concerned and worried. Something is very wrong with the left sided limbs of my body. COPD has greatly effected my life. But, losing the use of my hand and leg, well that is a whole other area of concern. Thank you so much.
 John Kenyon, CNA - Mon Oct 20, 2008 9:49 pm

User avatar Hello -

First, I'd like to congratulate you on your 57 smokeless days, and many more to come. Your resolve is commendable, and something in which you can take a great deal of pride. You've also begun the process of extending your life and improving your future health. Keep up the good work.

Now then: the symptom you're concerned about now, as you describe it, likely has absolutely nothing to do with COPD. Not only is there no apparent cause and effect associated with one and the other, but what you describe is almost certainly ulnar neuropathy, which is the result of pressure somewhere between the cervical spine and the left elbow most likely, on the ulnar nerve, the one which serves the outer side of each hand (the "pinky" and 4th finger, as well as the outer edge of the hand, usually, as you describe, extending into the wrist on the affected side, and sometimes part way up that part of the arm). This could be due to any one of a vast number of causes, from degenerative disc disease to a muscle spasm, to thoracic outlet syndrome (pressure on both the ulnar nerve and the blood supply to that part of the extremity where both pass between the collar bone and the first rib).

This is almost certainly an orthopedic problem, and should be evaluated by an orthopedist or a neurologist (the latter because it is a nerve that's involved). The problem could be resolved by something as simple as postural adjustment, physical therapy, or maybe even minor surgery, depending on what may be causing it. COPD could only be somehow remotely related, in that advanced COPD can sometimes cause changes in the shape of the chest itself, and so could indirectly cause some postural changes. Even at that, COPD wouldn't be considered the underlying cause.

I'd advise seeing your primary physician, who can refer you to either an orthopedist or neurologist, either of which (or perhaps together) can help figure out where the impingement lies and how best to correct it.

It's not serious, but ulnar neuropathy can be infuriating, as you're finding out. Dropping things, mis-dialing, tooth brushing and inserting keys in locks are some of the most challenging tasks we normally take for granted.

The numbness and tingling in your left leg is either a separate issue or perhaps indicative of multiple nerve compressions. It seems unlikely that both are related (in the sense of a stroke, as everything would have happened together, at once, quite suddenly). You may have more than one site on the left side of your body where nerves are becoming compressed at the spinal outlet.

I hope this is helpful to you. Please follow up with us as needed or update us after you've seen the appropriate specialist. And again, congratulations on your smoking cessation. That is a major accomplishment!

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