Hands, Fingers, Knees and Toes: Raynaud's Awareness
Raynaud's disease is a condition in which blood vessels in the fingers and toes contract in response to cold temperatures or stress. Around 1 in 20 people are estimated to experience Raynaud's at some point in their life, but only 5% will have symptoms that need medical treatment.
Dr. Auguste Gabriel Maurice Raynaud (1834 - 1881) first described the disease in his doctoral thesis, “On local asphyxia and gangrene of the extremities” in 1862. He wrote "Every time that she went out during weather at all cool, the nose, chin, cheeks, hands and feet became pale; they passed then to a violet tint, then to a slaty white."
10 million people in the UK suffer from Raynaud's each year, and the symptoms range from mild to severe depending on how many digits are affected, and to what degree. Though it is a common condition, it is often misunderstood.
What is Raynaud's?
Raynaud's disease affects the blood vessels in a person's nose, ears, fingers and toes. It occurs when stress or cold temperatures causes the blood supply to those areas to become reduced or blocked. This causes the fingernails, toes and the nose to turn a bluish-white colour. When the blood vessels constrict there may also be a painful tingling sensation known as ‘pinching’ in more severe cases. Raynaud's disease can also reduce blood flow to the ears, which can lead to tinnitus, a high-pitched ringing sound.
The blood vessels that carry blood to the extremities first constrict, then expand in a cycle. This process occurs naturally when someone is cold or stressed, but Raynaud's sufferers experience it more frequently or with greater severity than is normal.
Raynaud's is often mistaken for other conditions.
Raynaud's is often confused with or mistaken for a number of other conditions. This can make it harder to diagnose.
Poor circulation is a condition in which the body is unable to pump blood effectively to all areas of the body, but it is not a disease on it's own. Raynaud's is a vascular illness rather than a circulatory issue. It affects the blood vessels, not the heart and lungs.
Frostbite is a condition that occurs when the skin is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for too long. The skin goes numb and begins to redden, turn blue, and develop blisters. If the frostbite is not treated, it can cause permanent damage. This can include permanent tissue damage / death, which can lead to amputation in extreme situations. Raynaud's is far less likely to cause permanent damage and is unlikely to show any signs after rewarming.
When skin is exposed to cold temperatures for a long time it can develop small red itchy bumps called chilblains. These bumps are most common on the cheeks and ears, but they can appear on other parts of the body also. Although they are not dangerous, they can cause irritation. Raynaud's does not tend to cause bumps to appear on the skin.
So what causes Raynaud's?
Although the exact cause of the condition is unknown, it is related to a number of factors.
Biological Sex: People assigned female at birth in their early adolescence are more likely to develop Raynaud's, even more so when there is a family history of the condition. Reports show that despite it only appearing in approximately 1% of the population who are assigned male at birth, it affects up to 20% of those assigned female at birth. It is theorised that this disparity may be due to the hormone oestrogen.
Genetics: There is evidence that specific gene variants may be linked to an increased likelihood of developing Raynaud's, however more research needs to be done before this can be proven.
Autoimmune disease: Conditions such as lupus or scleroderma are linked to co-morbid Raynaud's. People who have diabetes, lupus, or scleroderma are particularly susceptible to developing the condition.
Smoking: Raynaud's has been associated with smoking, and it has been shown that quitting can help prevent the condition from worsening over time. Smoking increases a person's sensitivity to the cold and reduces the flow of blood through their arteries.
Managing Raynaud's at Home
Though there are not any specific treatments for Raynaud's, this should not cause worry. 95% of people with the condition won't need any kind of medication. When they do, GP's may prescribe calcium channel blockers or vasodilators to improve the blood flow in one's extremities. However, the best thing you can do is learn how to manage the condition at home.
To prevent your hands from becoming too cold, wear heated gloves. Some people with the condition struggle to keep their fingers warm even with thermal gloves. Heated gloves that are battery operated give the warmth that some people struggle to achieve naturally.
Clothing with silver and copper fibres
Some clothing like socks and gloves often now contain silver or copper fibres. These materials can reflect heat back to the body, keeping you warmer than normal clothes which rely on simply trapping heat between the fibres of the clothing.
Warm Up Slowly
When you come inside from the cold, do not rush to warm up. The best way to do this is gradually. Move into a warm room and let your body adjust to the temperature rather than running your hands under a hot tap. You can also use a gentle heating pad on your hands and feet, and put on warm slippers or socks to help increase blood flow.
Wear Warm, Loose Clothing
Natural fibres like bamboo, wool and cotton keep your body temperature regulated more effectively than synthetic materials like polyester. Furthermore, by wearing looser clothing, you can layer it under your outerwear and adjust how many layers you wear depending on the temperature.
To find out more about any of the products mentioned, click on the bold and underlined portions of text.
To read more about keeping warm, check out our blog post on dressing for warmth.
This Guest Blog was written by Millie Fuller.
You can follow her at her LinkedIn Page