If you live in a cold climate, then you know what it feels like to have your hands and feet turn cold and blue. In most cases, this is just a problem in extreme weather conditions, or when you forget to wear your gloves on a blustery winter day. However, a rare condition called Raynaud’s syndrome, also known as Raynaud’s disease or phenomenon, affects about 5 percent of the population. Raynaud’s syndrome occurs when the small arteries that carry blood to your fingers or toes become constricted. This constriction is called vasospasm. When it occurs, decreased blood flow to those areas causes the affected areas to become discolored, cold, and numb or tingly. Although Raynaud’s disease is most commonly noticed in the fingers, it can also occur in the toes. Even more rarely, Raynaud’s can affect the blood supply to the nose, ears, lips, and even nipples.
11. Symptoms of Raynaud’s
Raynaud’s attacks tend to occur when you are exposed to cold or stress. When Raynaud’s flares up, the affected areas of your fingers may first appear white in color. Next, they may turn blue and feel cold and numb. After you warm your hands up again, they may turn red and ache, throb or tingle. These attacks can last for less than one minute or up to several hours. They can occur daily, weekly, or be spread further apart. Raynaud’s may initially affect just one finger and then spread to other digits. An attack may affect one finger one day, and a different finger or area another day.
10. Primary Raynaud’s
Primary Raynaud’s syndrome is Raynaud’s that is not caused as a side effect of another disease. Those afflicted with primary Raynaud’s typically notice their first symptoms between the ages of 15 and 30 years old. The exact cause of primary Raynaud’s isn’t known, and cases tend to be less severe than cases of secondary Raynaud’s. Most people with primary Raynaud’s do not seek medical care for the discomforts of Raynaud’s and symptoms generally resolve on their own.
9. Risk Factors for Primary Raynaud’s
Risk factors for primary Raynaud’s syndrome are different from those for secondary Raynaud’s. Primary Raynaud’s is more common in women than in men. It generally affects individuals before the age of 30. This type of Raynaud’s tends to run in families, so a family history may indicate the possibility of developing Raynaud’s. In addition, since cold temperatures can trigger episodes of Raynaud’s, living in a cold climate can increase the chances of susceptible persons suffering attacks.
8. Secondary Raynaud’s
Secondary Raynaud’s symptoms tend to be more severe than those of primary Raynaud’s. This type of Raynaud’s usually comes about as a result of another medical condition, activity, or exposure. Secondary Raynaud’s can be linked to certain repetitive movements such as typing or operating equipment like a jackhammer. Certain medications that constrict arteries may result in secondary Raynaud’s syndrome. Diseases and conditions that affect the blood flow of arteries or the nerves that control arteries may cause Raynaud’s. Additionally, exposure to chemicals and injuries to the hands or feet can lead to Raynaud’s.
7. Risk Factors for Secondary Raynaud’s
Unlike primary Raynaud’s, secondary Raynaud’s typically affects people over the age of 30. If you perform a lot of repetitive motions or use machinery or tools that vibrate, you may be at risk. Furthermore, if you work in the plastics industry, the chemical vinyl chloride can cause Raynaud’s. There are several autoimmune disorders that can be accompanied by the Raynaud’s phenomenon. These include rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, lupus, and Sjogren’s disease. Additionally, Raynaud’s can be connected to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), Buerger’s disease, and certain blood disorders. Furthermore, medications that can cause narrowing of the arteries can trigger Raynaud’s. These include certain migraine medications, cancer medications such as cisplatin and vinblastine, and beta blockers.
6. Diagnosis of Raynaud’s
To diagnose Raynaud’s syndrome, your doctor will take your medical history, question you about your symptoms, and perform a physical exam. Your doctor may then perform tests to determine whether you have primary or secondary Raynaud’s. Nailfold capillaroscopy is a test where the physician will use a type of microscope to look through the epidermis at the base of your fingernail. This enables the physician to note any enlargement of the capillaries underneath. If your doctor suspects Raynaud’s is occurring secondary to another illness, further tests will likely be ordered.
5. Prevention of Attacks
If you suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome, there are steps you can take to prevent painful episodes. When going outdoors in cold temperatures, be sure to wear a warm coat. Dress in layers to stay toasty, including a hat, scarf, and two layers of gloves or mittens. If the cold temperatures of your refrigerator or freezer are enough to trigger an attack, use gloves or an oven mitt when adding or removing items. Discuss with your doctor and avoid medications such as over-the-counter allergy medications that may constrict your blood vessels. Similarly, if your attacks are triggered by stress, take measures to prevent stress. Research coping mechanisms for stresses that are unavoidable.
4. Treatment of the Syndrome
While there is no cure for Raynaud’s, lifestyle changes can be made to prevent the frequency of attacks. These include avoiding stressors or triggers that cause the constriction of blood vessels and arteries. Keep physically fit and exercise daily to improve blood flow to your extremities and to keep yourself warm. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these substances are known to trigger Raynaud’s. Smoking worsens Raynaud’s, so avoid smoking or being around smoke. Some Raynaud’s patients find their symptoms cannot be controlled by lifestyle changes alone. Medications that improve blood flow include calcium channel blockers and vasodilators. In extreme cases, shots may be given to block the nerves that control arteries in the hands or feet.
3. Relieving an Attack
No matter how diligently you avoid triggers, there are times Raynaud’s attacks will occur. When this happens, gently warm the affected areas. If you are outside in the cold, get inside where it is warm. Gently restore warmth to your fingers or toes by wiggling and then massaging them. You can warm them in warm water, but do not use hot water. Place your hands under your armpits for added warmth. Try exercises like spinning your arms in wide circles to get the blood flowing. If stress is your trigger, try closing your eyes and taking deep, calming breaths. Exercise can help decrease stress and get your blood pumping while releasing endorphins.
2. Complications from Raynaud’s
While the effects of Raynaud’s are usually limited to a temporary decrease in blood flow to the fingers or toes, in rare cases the effects can be more severe. If an artery becomes completely blocked and blood flow is not able to return to the affected area, sores may develop. These painful ulcers can be difficult to heal. If untreated, the loss of circulation can cause the death of tissue in the area. This results in gangrene. Very rarely, tissue death and gangrene can necessitate the amputation of the affected area.
1. Alternative Medicine for Raynaud’s
Alternative medicine offers some possibilities for those living with Raynaud’s syndrome. Ask your doctor if any of the following treatments may be worth trying. Studies show fish oil supplements may improve tolerance to cold temperatures and decrease vasospasm in people with primary Raynaud’s syndrome. Since acupuncture increases blood flow, it may be helpful for improving blood flow in those affected by Raynaud’s. Biofeedback techniques may be able to help patients control the constriction of blood flow in their hands and feet as well.