A person with Raynaud’s disease experiences pain in the fingers and feet when the temperatures drop. The temperature drop causes the blood vessels to narrow and almost completely shut down.
This disease is also known as Raynaud’s syndrome or Raynaud’s phenomenon. It affects about 5% of Americans, but only one in ten seek medical treatment.
There are two types: primary and secondary Raynaud’s. Primary Raynaud’s happens without any other illness behind it and the symptoms are often mild. Secondary Raynaud’s happens as a result of another illness. It is often a condition that attacks the body’s connective tissues like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. This can lead to skin sores and gangrene which is caused by cell and tissue death due to lack of blood.
The condition is named after the French doctor Maurice Raynaud, who first identified it in 1862. The exact cause of this condition remains unclear, but a hyperactivation of the sympathetic nervous system is known to cause an extreme narrowing of the blood vessels, known as vasoconstriction.
Normally, the body automatically tries to convert heat when it’s cold. One way the body does that is by slowing blood flow to the farthest points, which are the hands and feet. To do that, the small arteries that carry blood to those points, get narrower, keeping blood closer to the body’s core to conserve heat.
However, for people with Raynaud’s, those arteries shrink more than normal and faster. It makes the fingers and toes feel numb and change color to white or blue which lasts for about 15 minutes. Once the arteries relax, and the body warms up, the fingers feel tingly and turn red before going back to normal.
Causes of Secondary Raynaud’s
Some causes of secondary Raynaud’s include:
- Buerger’s Syndrome
- Primary Pulmonary Hypertension
- Scleroderma (a disease that causes hardening of the skin)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjorgen’s syndrome
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Cold fingers and toes
- Change in skin color
- Tingling sensation accompanied by red flush and swelling
Toes and fingers are most commonly affected, but Raynaud’s can also affect the nose, lips, and ears. Some women may also experience Raynaud’s phenomenon of the nipples, especially during breastfeeding.
Since the fingers and toes are the most common affected areas, one should keep the feet and hands warm, avoid smoking, and get enough exercise. For someone who already has this condition, the symptoms may be reduced by warming the hands and feet at once by massaging them. The hands and feet must also be protected from cuts, bruises, and other injuries because the lack of circulation can slow down the healing time of wounds. Moisturize the skin on the feet and hands to prevent the skin from cracking, and make sure that you wear comfortable socks that do cannot further irritate the skin such as organic cotton socks, as well as well-fitting shoes.
A capillaroscopy can help diagnose Raynaud’s disease. This involves viewing the skin at the base of the fingernail and inspecting it under a microscope to assess for malformed or enlarged capillaries. A blood test may also be ordered to check for antinuclear antibodies or measure erythrocyte sedimentation rate, which may indicate autoimmune problems.
Living with Raynaud’s
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) suggest the following to avoid and prevent some triggers:
- Wrap up and keep the house warm when the temperature gets cold
- Avoid emotional stress
- Exercise to promote a healthy lifestyle and reduce stress
- Avoid medicines and substances that could trigger the symptoms (Check with your doctor)
- Limit your alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Do not smoke
This article was first published in Cottonique.