This is a condition in which the circulation becomes suddenly obstructed in outlying parts of the body. It is characterised by extreme coldness in the hands and feet, and discolouration of the fingers and toes. The skin first turns white, then blue and finally red when the blood starts to flow again. The hands and feet are most commonly affected but sometimes the ears and nose are involved. You may feel a mild numbness or experience extreme pain.
What causes Raynaud’s Disease?
It is thought that abnormal nerve control of the blood vessel width and over-reaction to cold exposure contribute to an attack. Reaching into a refrigerator may act as a trigger, or for some people, stress alone causes vessels to become narrow. Women are often affected especially typists and pianists, but men may get a work-related condition from using hand-vibrating tools. Secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon is the name given when it is associated with other disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, hormone imbalance and some medications.
What are the symptoms?
Patients with mild disease notice skin discolouration on exposure to cold. There may also be a mild tingling and numbness in the digits involved which disappears when the colour returns to normal and is no more than a nuisance. In extreme cases when the condition lasts longer, ulcers develop and the digits can become infected.
How is Raynaud’s Disease diagnosed?
A careful clinical history and possibly blood tests will enable the doctor to decide if it is primary Raynaud’s or secondary to another underlying condition such as lupus erythematosus or scleroderma.
What is the treatment?
In mild cases, protecting the hands, feet and fingers from cold is all that is needed especially in winter. Always use warm water to wash your hands. If the symptoms persist, medications, which dilate the blood vessels, may be prescribed. Attacks can be caused by stress and smoking and it is important to prevent attacks where possible. You must give up smoking. For more severe Raynaud’s, your doctor may prescribe calcium channel blockers or vasodilators. Supplementary vitamins C and E have been found to help, also ginkgo biloba. Discuss taking alternative medicine with your pharmacist for possible interactions if you are already taking medication.