Raynaud’s (ray-NOHZ) disease or Raynaud’s Phenomenon is a problem with blood flow. It is a condition that causes some areas of your body––such as your fingers, toes, and the tips of your nose and ears––to feel numb and cool in response to cold temperatures or stress. In most cases, this inconvenience and discomfort last only for a short time, while your body is reacting to the coldness or stress. In Raynaud’s disease, the smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas. This is more prevalent in women and people living in cooler climates that are 60 degrees or colder. It also happens quite frequently as the weather suddenly turns from fall to winter and the temperature drops.
Experts disagree on the onset but some feel it happens from ages 15 to 40, and for others after the age of 40. Typically, women suffer from it more often than men. Experts are not sure how it is linked but some believe that there is a genetic link. Stress. Other factors include smoking, caffeine, cold medicines with pseudophedrine, birth control pills, and some migraine medications as well as beta-blockers. These medications affect blood flow. People who have suffered from frostbite are also at risk. Raynaud’s occur when the fingers become white due to the lack of blood flow. The fingers may turn blue as the blood vessels dilate to keep the blood in the tissue. In Raynaud’s disease, the smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas. Finally, the fingers may turn red as the blood flow returns and there is a burning sensation as the fingers become warm. Stress also creates this exaggerated physical response and the constriction of your arteries leading to your extremities (vasospasm).
Raynaud’s has been seen in people who regularly operate vibrating tools, play the piano forcefully, and type for extended times. If you smoke, you’re at risk of developing the disease, since smoking tobacco products leads to constriction of your blood.
Taking precautions to help prevent your hands and feet from losing circulation includes dressing warmly in cold weather. Wear gloves or mittens when your hands may become cold, and limit your exposure when you use the refrigerator or freezer. Avoiding stress and caffeine can also help prevent attacks. If you smoke, quitting may improve the condition. This is because smoking causes your blood vessels to narrow and reduces blood flow. Soaking your hands or feet in warm (not hot) water is helpful. Do this at the first sign of attack. Keep soaking until your skin color returns to normal. In some people, symptoms are persistent or troubling. For these cases, other treatments are an option. Your description of your symptoms, a health history, and a physical exam are often enough for a diagnosis. Blood tests may be conducted to see if any underlying conditions are present and to rule out other problems. Your health care provider can tell you more about long-term concerns and when to call a health care provider.
Other problems occur rarely, but they can be serious. Call your healthcare provider right away if you notice any of the following: infection or sores on the skin, a finger or toe turns black or brown, or excessive swelling in the finger or toe. If your symptoms become severe, a doctor may send you to a specialist, who will try medication or surgery. Some may even suggest supplements such as ginkgo or fish oil. Most professionals will recommend first controlling environmental conditions with wool clothing, mittens, and other proper outdoor attire. Stress and most symptoms of Raynaud’s can be controlled with lifestyle changes.
If you suspect that you may have Raynaud’s, getting treatment sooner rather than later can save you a lot of discomfort in the future. While Raynaud’s is not often life-threatening and is more of a nuisance, complications can develop in more severe cases. In addition to the aforementioned symptoms of Raynaud’s, if you have a sore on your hands or feet that will not heal, or if you have a history of Raynaud’s and develop a sore in the affected body part, or have fever or swollen and painful joints, please consult your physician as soon as possible. If you find yourself in the middle of having an attack of Raynaud’s, it can be helpful to move to a warmer area, place your hands in your armpits, wiggle your fingers and toes, run warm water over your fingers/toes, make large circles with your arms to increase blood flow to the fingers, and massage your hands and feet. If stress was the trigger, find ways to calm yourself down, take deep breaths, and leave the stressful environment. While there is currently no cure for Raynaud’s, you may be able to prevent it by avoiding the factors that can trigger an attack. The good news is that other than being a hassle for which you will need to make considerations, it should not severely affect your quality of life.
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