Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: Diagnosis & Tests Menu

What are the symptoms for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Depending on which structures are compressed, thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms can vary. You should see your doctor if you consistently experience any of these signs and symptoms.

When nerves are compressed, this is called neurogenic (neurological) thoracic outlet syndrome. Symptoms can include:

  • Weakening grip
  • Numbness or tingling in your extremities
  • Pain or aching in your hand, neck, or shoulder
  • Wasting in the fleshy base of your thumb (Gilliatt-Sumner hand)

When one or more of the veins or arteries under the collarbone are compressed, this is called vascular thoracic outlet syndrome. Symptoms can include:

  • Cold fingers, hands, or arms
  • Numbness or tingling in your fingers
  • Weakness in your arm or neck
  • Arm pain and swelling
  • Discoloration of your hand (bluish color)
  • Weak or no pulse in the affected arm
  • Lack of color in one or more of your fingers
  • Throbbing lump near your collarbone

Why do I have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Thoracic outlet syndrome generally occurs due to a compression of the nerves or blood vessels in the thoracic outlet. The cause of the compression varies and can include:

  • Trauma: Internal changes from a traumatic event, such as a car accident, can compress the nerves in the thoracic outlet. The onset of symptoms in this instance are often delayed.
  • Repetitive activity: You may notice symptoms if your job requires you to repeat a movement continuously (typing, assembly line work, repeatedly lifting over your head). Athletes, such as baseball pitchers and swimmers, are particularly susceptible due to years of repetitive movements.
  • Anatomical defects: Congenital defects may include an extra rib located above the first rib or an abnormally tight fibrous band connecting your spine to your rib.
  • Poor posture: Habitually drooping your shoulders or maintaining your head in a forward position can lead to compression in the thoracic outlet area.
  • Pregnancy: Because joints loosen during pregnancy and weight gain places undue pressure on the joints, pregnant woman often exhibit symptoms.

To diagnose thoracic outlet syndrome, your doctor may review your symptoms and medical history and conduct a physical examination. Because symptoms and their severity can vary greatly among people with thoracic outlet syndrome, diagnosing it can be difficult.

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This information is provided by Vascular Health Clinics and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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