Pregnancy hormones can cause hand pain

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am scheduled to deliver my baby in two months. In the past month, I have developed pain in the fingers of my right hand, and I think it’s because I am pregnant. I didn’t have any injury. The pain is awful at night. I haven’t brought it up to my doctor since I am not scheduled to see him for another couple of weeks. Is this something related to pregnancy? – R.B.

ANSWER: I am banking that it’s carpal tunnel syndrome, something that happens to many pregnant women. It also happens to women who aren’t pregnant, and to many men too.

On the palm side of the wrist, a large nerve passes from the forearm into the hand. To reach the hand, it has to traverse a wrist tunnel made of bones, ligaments and tendons. There isn’t much room in that tunnel. Any swelling of its components presses on the nerve, and the result is numbness or pain of the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers – all or some. Sometimes fingers become weak. The pain almost always worsens at nighttime. That’s carpal tunnel syndrome.

Pregnancy hormones can cause swelling of the carpal tunnel structures, and that’s why the syndrome is common in pregnant women.

You can give yourself a diagnostic test. Hold your right arm and hand out straight with the palm facing the floor. With your left hand, bend your right wrist down. Carpal tunnel syndrome makes bending painful.

You might be able to get relief by wearing a wrist splint. They’re available in most drugstores. If your doctor approves, an anti-inflammatory medicine like Aleve can reduce swelling and lessen pain. An injection of cortisone in the tunnel is another way to bring down the swelling.

Discuss this with your doctor. Pregnancy is not the time to consider surgical treatment. Most women will have complete resolution of symptoms once they have delivered.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What’s your opinion of chelation therapy? My doctor is in favor of it, and he administers the treatment right in his office. He says my arteries are hardened and that chelation will soften them and prevent heart attacks and strokes. I would like an unbiased view of this treatment. – W.F.

ANSWER: Chelation (key-LAY-shun) involves dripping into a vein a solution containing EDTA, ethylenediaminetetra – acetic acid. EDTA is a chelator, a substance that grabs hold of calcium and takes it out of the body. The theory is that the calcium of hardened arteries is gotten rid of through this process.

I am not a great fan of chelation therapy. Work by Canadian doctors has shown that it does not do what it is touted to do.

Before you invest any money, get a second opinion from a cardiologist. For one thing, you want to know if you really do have hardened arteries – arteriosclerosis. For another, you can get a heart specialist’s input on chelation therapy.

There are other ways to slow artery hardening and possibly to reverse it. One is by lowering your blood cholesterol by adopting a diet low in fats and high in fruits and vegetables. Keeping blood pressure in the normal range is another effective treatment. Staying active is a third way to keep arteries supple.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Next month I am to have a hernia repaired. The thought of the operation doesn’t bother me at all – the thought of getting AIDS from a blood transfusion does. What are the chances that this could happen? – W.D.

ANSWER: Practically zero. I haven’t seen a hernia operation that ever required a blood transfusion.

Furthermore, the risk of catching AIDS from a blood transfusion is as close to nil as you can possibly get. The risk is something like one in 2 million.

There was a time when transfusion was one way of transmitting the AIDS virus. That was before there was a blood test for the virus and before all blood was screened for it.

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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