Major triggers include cold weather and stress
By Jenny Cook
Cold weather can be unpleasant at the best of times, but freezing temperatures and adverse conditions are felt particularly acutely by those who suffer with Raynaud’s disease.
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a disorder that occurs mainly in the fingers and toes. It causes the blood vessels to narrow in response to external triggers including stress and cold temperatures, often causing the sufferer’s extremities to go numb and lose colour.
Here, Dr Roger Henderson gives us the low-down on what you need to know about the condition.
- Anyone can get it
There are two types of Raynaud’s disease: primary Raynaud’s, which happens without an obvious cause or reason, and secondary Raynaud’s, which is usually linked to another health problem.
“People of all ages can have Raynaud’s. It may run in families, but the primary form is the most common type, typically starting between the ages of 15 and 25. It is most common in women and people living in cold places or working in cold environments. Secondary Raynaud’s tends to start after the age of 35-40, and is most common in people with connective tissue diseases, such as scleroderma, Sjögren’s syndrome and lupus.”
- Symptoms can be painful
For those with Raynaud’s disease, the body’s reaction to the cold or stress is a lot stronger, meaning that the blood vessels narrow much faster and tighter than normal.
“This is called an ‘attack’ of Raynaud’s. During such an attack, the fingers and toes can change colour, going from white to blue to red, and may also feel cold and numb from lack of blood flow. As the attack ends and blood flows back to normal, the affected parts of the body can throb, tingle or be very painful.”
After the cold parts of the body warm up, normal blood flow returns in about 15 minutes.
- It can be easily managed
The treatment of Raynaud’s disease aims to reduce the number of attacks occurring, making them less severe, preventing tissue damage and stopping the loss of any tissues of the fingers and toes.
“Primary Raynaud’s phenomenon does not lead to tissue damage, so non-drug treatment is used first here, whereas treatment with medication is more common with secondary Raynaud’s.”
Easy ways to prevent a Raynaud’s attack include…
- Keep your hands and feet warm and dry
- Warm your hands and feet with warm water
- Avoid air conditioning
- Wear gloves to touch frozen or cold foods
- Wear multiple layers of loose clothing and a hat when it’s cold
- Use chemical warmers, such as small heating pouches that can be placed in pockets, gloves, boots or shoes
- Don’t smoke (smoking narrows blood vessels even further)
- Exercise regularly (to boost blood flow)