Managing Raynaud's Phenomenon

December 30, 2015

The Icy Truth about a Common Condition

By Jennifer McLaughlin

At right: Raynaud’s is a condition in which some areas of the body feel numb and cold in certain circumstances. Image courtesy of MayoClinic.com

 

Do you frequently experience numbing and tingling sensations in your fingers that feel like your fingers were suddenly flashed frozen? If so, you may be experiencing a condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon. The good news is that it is remarkably common; the bad news is that there isn’t a cure.

Raynaud’s (pronounced ray-NOHZ) phenomenon is a condition resulting in a particular series of discolorations of the skin most commonly on the fingers but also on the toes, nose and ears. For unknown reasons it can occur in any or all four regions after exposure to changes in temperature or emotional events.

With Raynaud’s phenomenon the body’s reaction to cold or stress is stronger than normal and causes the blood vessels to quickly become constricted.

Initially, the skin on the digits turns white due to diminished blood supply, and then turns blue due to prolonged lack of oxygen.

Finally, the blood vessels reopen, causing a local “flushing” phenomenon, which returns the digits to their original color and is often accompanied by swelling, tingling, and a painful “pins and needles” sensation. The three-phase color sequence of skin appearing white to blue to red is characteristic of Raynaud’s.

This syndrome affects five to 10 percent of the population. However, only one in five sufferers will acknowledge that their discomfort is medically related and actively seek treatment.

Raynaud’s most frequently affects women in connection with higher estrogen levels.

People can experience just the symptoms of Raynaud’s by itself, or as a condition associated with other rheumatic diseases. When it occurs alone, medical sources refer to it as “Raynaud’s disease” or primary Raynaud’s.

Primary Raynaud’s is thought to be at least partly hereditary, although scientists have not yet identified what genes may play a specific role.

When it accompanies other rheumatic diseases, such as lupus or scleroderma, it is called secondary Raynaud’s.

Primary Raynaud’s does not lead to tissue damage. Doctors have found that a healthy diet and active, low-stress lifestyle have proven to reduce the severity of symptoms. Treatment with blood pressure medicines that relax blood vessels are common with secondary Raynaud’s. If these medicines are unsuccessful, then drug-based treatments, chemical injections or surgery may be considered.

Some basic “rules of thumb”

When sitting for long periods of time consider wearing a hat or fingerless gloves, which keep your hands warm while allowing dexterity of action such as typing. Avoid long exposure to air conditioning or holding or touching cold objects.

The use of chemical warmers, such as small heating pouches that can be placed in pockets, mittens, boots, or shoes, helps decrease symptoms as well.

The good news for people who experience the symptoms of Raynaud’s is that while it may be painful, it doesn’t need to restrict your quality of life or outdoor endeavors. By seeing a specialist and taking a few precautionary measures you can continue to have a lifetime of fun and adventure.

Resources:

Raynaud’s Association: www.raynauds.org

Seattle native Jennifer McLaughlin is an avid Northwest outdoor enthusiast who has been suffering from Raynaud’s for the past decade. She doesn’t let it dictate her opportunities for outdoor adventure.

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