Jessica Alba’s Health Scare

Actress Jessica Alba can be pretty cool on the screen, in movies like The Fantastic Four, and Sin City.

But a recent health scare had the 31-year-old pretty freaked-out…

As she explained on Jimmy Kimmel Live, she woke up one night with numbness in arm and thought she couldn’t move her face and she thought she was having a stroke!

She went to the emergency room and after an MRI found out that she had carpal tunnel syndrome (with maybe a little panic attack on the side).

Jessica believes that the carpal tunnel symptoms are a result of the many hours she spends on-line running her eco-friendly baby product company, The Honest Company.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

carpal-tendonCarpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is the name for a group of problems that includes swelling, pain, tingling, and loss of strength in the wrist and hand.

The wrist is made of small bones that form a narrow groove or carpal tunnel. Tendons and a nerve called the median nerve must pass through this tunnel from the forearm into the hand.

The median nerve controls the feelings and sensations in the palm side of the thumb and fingers. Sometimes swelling and irritation of the tendons can put pressure on the wrist nerve causing the symptoms of CTS.

A person’s dominant hand is the one that is usually affected. However, nearly half of CTS sufferers have symptoms in both hands.

What are the symptoms of CTS?

Typically, CTS begins slowly with feelings of burning, tingling, and numbness in the wrist and hand. The areas most affected are the thumb, index and middle fingers.

At first, symptoms may happen more often at night. Many CTS sufferers do not make the connection between a daytime activity that might be causing the CTS and the delayed symptoms. Also, many people sleep with their wrist bent, which may cause more pain and symptoms at night.

As CTS gets worse, the tingling may be felt during the daytime too, along with pain moving from the wrist to your arm or down to your fingers. Pain is usually felt more on the palm side of the hand.

Another symptom of CTS is weakness of the hands that gets worse over time. Some people with CTS find it difficult to grasp an object, make a fist, or hold onto something small. The fingers may even feel like they are swollen even though they are not. Over time, this feeling will usually happen more often.

If left untreated, those with CTS can have a loss of feeling in some fingers and permanent weakness of the thumb. Thumb muscles can actually waste away over time. Eventually, CTS sufferers may have trouble telling the difference between hot and cold temperatures by touch.

What are the causes of CTS?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is often the result of a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel, rather than a problem with the nerve itself.

Most likely the disorder is due to a hereditary predisposition – the carpal tunnel is simply smaller in some people than in others.

Other contributing factors include:

  • trauma or injury to the wrist that cause swelling, such as sprain or fracture;
  • mechanical problems in the wrist joint;
  • work stress, or repeated use of vibrating hand tools;
  • fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause;
  • medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease, or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • In some cases no cause can be identified.

How is CTS treated?

It is important to be treated by a doctor for CTS in order to avoid permanent damage to the wrist nerve and muscles of the hand and thumb.

CTS is much easier to treat early on. Most CTS patients get better after first-step treatments and the following tips for protecting the wrist. Treatments for CTS include the following:

  • carpal_tunnel_brace_t242___t243_primary_73Wrist splint: A splint can be worn to support and brace your wrist in a neutral position so that the nerves and tendons can recover.
  • Rest:For people with mild CTS, stopping or doing less of a repetitive movement may be all that is needed.
  • Medication: The short-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be helpful to control CTS pain. NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and other non-prescription pain relievers. In severe cases, an injection of cortisone may help to reduce swelling.
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery: CTS surgery is one of the most common surgeries done in the U.S. Generally, surgery is only an option for severe cases of CTS and/or after other treatments have failed for a period of at least six months. Open release surgery is a common approach to CTS surgery and involves making a small incision in the wrist or palm and cutting the ligament to enlarge the carpal tunnel.

Sources: Women’s and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

For more information, click here to go the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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