Raynaud’s disease is a common phenomenon which affects up to 10 million people in the UK with women being more prone to the condition than men. The phenomenon can cause your hands and feet to change colour as a result of your blood vessels overreacting to cold or stressful conditions.
As it is not a life threatening condition it is often under-reported but it can be distressing for it’s many sufferers. Each year the month of February is designated Raynaud’s Awareness Month to raise the profile of the condition.
Raynaud’s is named after the French doctor Maurice Raynaud who first recognised the condition in 1862.
Why does it happen?
It is usually triggered by cold temperatures, anxiety or stress. The condition occurs because the blood vessels go into a temporary spasm blocking the flow of blood to certain parts of the body – usually the fingers and toes. This causes the affected area to change colour to white, then blue and then red, as the blood flow returns. Symptoms can last from a few minutes to several hours.
The condition is not a serious threat to your health but can result in a painful throbbing and the inability to use your fingers during the attack. If symptoms worsen and blood supply is reduced for prolonged periods of time, fingers and toes can become deformed. If oxygen is completely cut off from the area, skin ulcers and gangrenous tissue can occur. However, severe complications are rare.
Other parts of the body that can be affected include the ears, nose, lips and nipples.
Types of Raynaud’s
There are two types of Raynaud’s:
- Primary – when the condition develops by itself & is the most common type
- Secondary – when it is caused by another health condition such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
The causes of primary Raynaud’s are unclear. However 1 in 10 people with this go on to develop a condition associated with secondary Raynaud’s such as lupus. Your GP can help determine whether you have primary or secondary Raynaud’s by examining your symptoms and carrying out blood tests.
- In many cases, it may be possible to control the symptoms yourself by wrapping up well and wearing gloves and warm footwear in cold weather. Hand warming gel packs are also useful to put inside your gloves.
- If stress is the cause, then relaxation techniques can help moderate your symptoms.
- Stopping smoking can also help as smoking can affect your circulation.
- Exercise regularly as this helps to improve your circulation and reduce stress levels.
- If you are unable to control the symptoms yourself then calcium channel blockers such as nifedipine may be recommended. This is a type of medication that encourages the blood vessels to widen. It is important to avoid drinking grapefruit juice as it can worsen the possible side effects of the medication. These can include oedema (swelling due to a build up of fluid), headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations and constipation.
The Raynaud’s and Scleroderma Association have merged with the Scleroderma Society to form the SRUK who are the UK’s only charity dedicated to improving the lives of people with scleroderma and Raynaud’s.
What is Scleroderma?
Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune condition where the immune system becomes overactive and attacks healthy tissue in the body.
It’s name comes from a combination of the Greek words, “sclero” for hard and “derma” for skin. One of the first noticeable signs of the condition is a hardening of the skin. The body produces too much collagen which causes scarring and swelling and can affect the skin, joints, tendons and internal organs.
For about 90% of people diagnosed with scleroderma, Raynaud’s is the first symptom. Therefore it is vital that if you suffer from the symptoms above, you should make an appointment with your GP.
Scleroderma usually begins between the ages of 25 and 55 and is often preceded by Raynaud’s.
Although more than 95% of patients with scleroderma have Raynaud’s, the chances of someone with Raynaud’s developing scleroderma is very small.
So, if your hands are always cold and your fingers sometimes go blue or white and then red and sore, don’t ignore it! You could be suffering from Raynaud’s so get yourself checked out!
If you would like more information on this condition from SRUK, please click on the link to their website Scleroderma & Raynaud’s
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