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Wrist Pain May Indicate Ailment

One out of every five people who suffer from wrist pain turn out to have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, a potentially debilitating condition that can require surgery, Swedish researchers said Tuesday.

The study, which was designed to figure out the prevalence of the condition in the general population, found that 354 out of 2,466 Swedish study subjects -- or 14 percent -- complained of wrist pain.

Of those with pain, 66 were diagnosed with the syndrome (CTS), meaning that 2 percent of the overall study population suffered from the condition and 19 percent of those with wrist pain did.

The study also showed women were four times more likely to have the problem than men, and overweight individuals were more than twice as likely to suffer from it.

Symptoms of CTS include numbness, and a tingling or pain in the wrist, fingers or forearm, says CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.

The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was conducted by Isam Atroshi and other researchers at Hassleholm-Kristianstad Hospital in Kristanstad, Sweden.

CTS occurs when a person repeatedly flexes or extends their wrist. This causes the tendons in the wrist or forearm to inflame and push on the surrounding nerves, which can eventually result in numbness, tingling or pain.

Some individuals lose strength and sensation in their hands, and undergo wrist surgery with varying success.

If treated by a doctor early, the condition can be controlled. Sufferers also can help themselves ease the discomfort with the following:

  • Rest the hand and wrist; overuse will just aggravate the condition.
  • Treat the pain with heat or cold, as well as painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofin and naproxen sodium.
  • Immobilize the inflamed area by sleeping in a wrist splint to help relieve the pressure.
  • For computer users, keep your arm position parallel to the keyboard. That may mean adjusting your chair height or using a keyboard pad.
  • Take frequent breaks away from the computer to rest and stretch your hands.
CTS is caused by pressure exerted on the median nerve at the wrist. The median nerve supplies sensation to the thumb-side of the palm and to the thumb, index finger, middle finger and the left side of the ring finger. The nerve enters the hand through a gap formed by the wrist bones, called the carpal bones, and the tough membrane that holds the bones together, the transverse carpal ligament. This gap is called the carpal tunnel.

Anyone who uses frequent force and repetition with their wrist could develop CTS. That includes sewing machine operators, meat and fish processors, and even people wh knit for a hobby. Carpal tunnel syndrome can also be brought on by pregnancy, premenstrual syndrome, menopause, rheumatoid arthritis, renal failure, diabetes and high blood pressure.

The researchers wrote that the estimate of CTS prevalence will contribute to early diagnosis and treatment, but doctors from the University of Michigan School of Public Health questioned the study's results in an accompanying editorial.

Alfred Franzblau and Robert Werner of Michigan said the electrical conductivity test on nerves that was used in the study produced many "false-positive" results.

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