Even though you can't see them, electrolytes — minerals and compounds that carry electrical changes — continuously move across your cell membranes to maintain a balance between your cells and your blood. Electrolytes in your body include potassium, phosphate sodium and magnesium, among others.
If your electrolytes are not in balance, you may experience paresthesias; that is, tingling in your hands. Your doctor can diagnose electrolyte imbalances through blood tests, and also prescribe dehydration treatments.
Feeling Those Pins and Needles
Tingling in the hands, often referred to as "pins and needles," can be caused by too much potassium in the blood. At normal levels (3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter) potassium is an electrolyte that aids nerve function and muscle cells health. However, high levels of potassium in the blood (greater than 6.0 millimoles per liter) may indicate that you have hyperkalemia, one common symptom of which is tingling in the hands. Typically, true hyperkalemia is caused by acute kidney failure or chronic kidney disease.
You may also feel pins and needles in your hands if you have high levels of phosphate in your blood. Phosphate is an electrolyte that helps regulate acid-base balance and calcium levels. Typically, high levels of phosphate (known as hyperphosphatemia) are also caused by kidney disease, and as noted in a 2015 journal article in the Saudi Medical Journal. In fact, it is a leading cause of death among those with kidney disease.
But, what if you're a healthy adult whose potassium and phosphate levels are normal, and your hands still feel like they're on pins and needs? One possible cause could be dehydration tingling.
Numb Fingers from Dehydration?
Electrolytes help regulate the fluid levels in your blood plasma and your body. So, when your electrolytes get "out of whack," taking a look at how much or how little you are drinking can help identify reasons for your numbness.
On the one hand, low sodium, or hyponatremia, is one of the most common electrolyte imbalances. According to the Mayo Clinic, sodium helps regulate the amount of water in and around your cells. If you drink too much water, you dilute the amount of sodium in your body, and your cells begin to swell.
On the other hand, if you do not drink enough water, your body becomes dehydrated. Dehydration's effects include tingling in the hands and fingers, as well as extreme thirst, less frequent urination, dark-colored urine, fatigue, dizziness and confusion.
So is it bad to drink a lot of water when dehydrated? According to a July 2018 article in Harvard Health Publishing, healthy adults only need four to six cups of water each day. If you drink less than this amount, you are at risk for dehydration and dehydration tingling.
Finding a Dehydration Treatment
If you catch dehydration early, it's relatively easy to treat by increasing your daily fluid intake. An easy way to do this is to have a glass of water with each meal, in social situations, or with medicines.
You can also increase your water intake by eating water-rich foods. Unlike foods that reduce water retention (e.g., salt, beans, dairy products) the Cleveland Clinic notes that the following water-rich foods will satisfy your thirst and replenish your body's water level: cucumbers, celery, salad, zucchini, watermelon, strawberries and cauliflower.
You can also try drinking alkaline water to replenish your electrolytes while re-hydrating, though there are no current studies to prove doing so will benefit you any more than drinking normal tap water.
The American College of Cardiology notes that an electrolyte panel can be conducted to measure the amount of electrolytes in your blood. Therefore, seek medical help from your doctor if you are worried that you are dehydrated and have an electrolyte imbalance.
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Fact Sheets"
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Paresthesia Information Page"
- Mayo Clinic: "High Potassium (Hyperkalemia)"
- Merk Manual: "Hyperphosphatemia"
- Saudi Medical Journal: "Hyperphosphatemia, The Hidden Killer in Chronic Kidney Disease"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hyponatremia"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How Much Water Should You Drink?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Dehydrated? These 7 Foods Will Satisfy Your Thirst and Hunger"
- American College of Cardiology: "Electrolyte Panel"