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What causes sudden onset arm weakness?

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Posted on Tue, 26 May 2015
Question: My husband woke up and his arm was fine and then he couldnt lift it. Can work his hand,no pain,speech good.just can not lift his arm
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Answered by Dr. Olsi Taka (47 minutes later)
Brief Answer:
Stroke is most likely

Detailed Answer:
I read your question carefully and I understand your concern.

Considering that description of acute weakness, without any trauma, neck or shoulder pain I am afraid the most likely cause is a stroke. Probably not a major life-threatening one if his lower limb and hand movement remains preserved, but still that is the most probable diagnosis and every stroke requires urgent medical evaluations (should be taken to the ER), even if a small one, in order to observe for worsening during the first few days and identify possible causes and risk factors (like heart arrhythmia, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol etc) which should be addressed in order to prevent stroke recurrences. Imaging, cardiac and lab tests should be necessary.
Other possible causes could be peripheral nerve injury, like damage to the axillary nerve or radial nerve (though radial involves more than just the arm), but that usually is due to a trauma leading to shoulder dislocation, or at least a movement leading very aggressive stretching of the shoulder joint not out of the blue after waking up normally as you describe it.

I remain at your disposal for further questions.
Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Chakravarthy Mazumdar
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Dr. Olsi Taka

Neurologist

Practicing since :2004

Answered : 3669 Questions

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What causes sudden onset arm weakness?

Brief Answer: Stroke is most likely Detailed Answer: I read your question carefully and I understand your concern. Considering that description of acute weakness, without any trauma, neck or shoulder pain I am afraid the most likely cause is a stroke. Probably not a major life-threatening one if his lower limb and hand movement remains preserved, but still that is the most probable diagnosis and every stroke requires urgent medical evaluations (should be taken to the ER), even if a small one, in order to observe for worsening during the first few days and identify possible causes and risk factors (like heart arrhythmia, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol etc) which should be addressed in order to prevent stroke recurrences. Imaging, cardiac and lab tests should be necessary. Other possible causes could be peripheral nerve injury, like damage to the axillary nerve or radial nerve (though radial involves more than just the arm), but that usually is due to a trauma leading to shoulder dislocation, or at least a movement leading very aggressive stretching of the shoulder joint not out of the blue after waking up normally as you describe it. I remain at your disposal for further questions.