Finger pain and hand weakness from pregnancy

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am eight months pregnant and am having pain in the fingers of my right hand. Also, I think my grip is weaker than it was. My OB doctor says it’s nothing and will go away after I deliver. He’s not in favor of me taking any medicines that aren’t absolutely necessary. What is this “nothing” I have? Will it go away? — K.H.

ANSWER: That “nothing” is most likely carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s a common condition. A large nerve passes from the forearm into the hand through a tunnel in the wrist. “Carpus” is the Latin word for “wrist.” The tunnel’s floor and sides are wrist bones; its ceiling is a tough ligament. There’s not a whole lot of room in that tunnel. Any swelling that takes place in it compresses the nerve and causes symptoms of pain, numbness, prickling sensations and sometimes hand weakness.

The thumb, index, middle and adjacent half of the ring finger are the ones where symptoms appear. The pain worsens at night and might keep a person from sleep. A simple test used to diagnose this syndrome is to bend the wrist so that the hand is drawn down to the forearm. Hold that position for a full minute. It should cause pain to arise or intensify.

Pregnancy is one cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. It will go when you deliver. Obesity, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, injury and a low output of thyroid hormone are other causes.

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Your doctor is wise to limit medicines during pregnancy. Therapies other than drugs often can bring relief. One is a wrist splint, available in medical-supply stores. Or you or your husband can make one. A piece of wood that keeps your wrist from binding is all you need. Wear it at night. If need be, wear it during the day, too. Keeping the wrist straight stops nerve compression. If this fails, your family doctor can inject one of the cortisone drugs into tissues that border the carpal tunnel. The drug diffuses into it. One shot of cortisone won’t hurt you or your developing baby.

I’m sure your OB doctor won’t object.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a victim of emphysema. I used to smoke up to three packs a day, and it finally caught up with me. My question is about oxygen for emphysema. I’m not on it. Friends ask me why. My doctor said it wouldn’t help me. Why not? — H.L.

ANSWER: Oxygen helps only those who need it. You might not. Your symptoms and the amount of oxygen in your blood determine an oxygen need. If you don’t need it, don’t feel disappointed.

Do you know what emphysema is? It’s a destruction of the innumerable delicate air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. Oxygen from inhaled air passes through those air sacs into the blood. Emphysema disrupts this passage.

Emphysema often is seen together with chronic bronchitis, a nonstop cough that brings up thick, yellow sputum. The two conditions together are called COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The booklet on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease explains emphysema and chronic bronchitis in detail, both their development and treatment. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 601, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $ 4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Rumors fly. It’s said that this year’s flu shot contained a dangerous ingredient — some sort of nonmedical filler. Help. — H.W.

ANSWER: Rumors fly all the time. Most have not an iota of truth in them. This applies to the rumor you heard about the flu vaccine.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.

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