In 1862, French physician Maurice Raynaud discovered a medical condition which causes spasms (sudden constrictions) of the blood vessels that result in lower blood flow to the extremities. This would lead to numbness and cold feeling in your fingers, toes, and sometimes nose, lips, and ears. The causes of Raynaud’s disease continue to puzzle the medical community to this day.
The most common cause of the disease is believed to be a reaction, or rather an overreaction to cold, but stress and anxiety are also suspected triggers. The data shows that women have a higher likelihood of having Raynaud’s disease.
In most cases, the disease is not dangerous. However, occasionally it can lead to dire consequences.
Cold fingers or toes is the most obvious symptom of Raynaud’s disease. However, keep in mind that everyone can occasionally experience that. In an effort to retain heat, the body would redirect blood away from the skin. Although this is a normal reaction of healthy people, those with Raynaud’s disease experience this more severely, and it is often followed by other symptoms which include:
- Changing color of the digits caused by cold or stress;
- Numbness and pain in the affected area;
- Swelling and tingling sensation.
In the first stages of the attack, the affected areas begin turning white. This is followed by the skin turning blue and the fingers or toes becoming cold and numb. These symptoms can last up to 2 hours. If the cause is exposure to cold, warming the affected area of your body will alleviate the condition. On the other hand, if it is a stress-induced attack, distance yourself from the source of frustration and do your best to relax.
There are two main types of Raynaud’s:
- Primary Raynaud’s – is the most common type. In most cases, people don’t have to seek treatment for it because of its mild effects. It is not connected to any other medical condition.
- Secondary Raynaud’s – also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, is the less common but more serious type of the disease. It is always accompanied by an associated medical condition.
Microscopic examination of the skin is the only way to positively identify the type of Raynaud’s. Deformities of the skin or enlarged capillaries indicate the second Raynaud’s. If that’s the case, further blood tests will need to be conducted to diagnose the exact accompanying condition.
Unfortunately, there is not a single, all-encompassing blood test. To diagnose the underlying disease, doctors will usually have to perform several different tests. Some of the diseases that can cause Raynaud’s phenomenon are:
- Connective tissue disorder: Raynaud’s can be induced by diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s syndrome.
- Diseases of the arteries: Buerger’s disease – inflammation of the blood vessels in feet and hands; atherosclerosis – accumulation of plaques in the arteries that feed the heart; primary pulmonary hypertension – high blood pressure that affects the arteries of the lungs.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Compression of the median nerve as it travels through the wrist, which results in numbness and tingling which make the hand more sensitive to cold weather.
- Injuries: Fractures, frostbites, injuries caused by repetitive actions like wielding vibrating tools.
- Medication: Drugs that cause a narrowing of the blood vessels, such as the ones for cold relieve, and beta blockers prescribed for high blood pressure.
Spasms of the vascular system can become so frequent that the lack of oxygen would create bruising of the tissue. Occasionally, this can even lead to an infection of the fingers or toes and sometimes gangrene.
Keeping the extremities warm and out of harm’s way is the first measure. For more serious symptoms, medications are necessary. Their primary function is to widen the blood vessel and thus enhance circulation. They can also reduce the frequency of attacks, protect the tissue from damage, and treat the accompanying diseases.
In the worst-case scenario, more invasive treatments will be necessary. Surgery may help to reduce the severity of attacks. Small incisions on the sympathetic nerves in the affected areas can help regulate the opening and narrowing of the blood vessels. Another option is a chemical injection that has a similar function.
Alternatively, for patients with less serious symptoms, there are home remedies that may bolster your circulation. The effectiveness of these methods is questionable, so the results may vary. Before you decide to go down this road, you may want to consult your doctor. Some of the home cures available to you are:
- Fish oil – improves tolerance to cold;
- Ginkgo – reduces the frequency of attacks;
- Acupuncture – improves circulation;
- Biofeedback – relaxation exercises and controlling body temperature through the will of the mind.
You can take several actions that may decrease the severity and frequency of the attacks. It is highly recommended to exercise regularly in order to improve circulation and to avoid stressful situations. Smoking should be avoided because it is known to constrict the blood vessels which can cause an attack. Also, you should avoid drinking too much coffee and energy drinks.
To minimize the chances of provoking an attack episode, you should also consider the following:
- Minimize walking barefoot;
- Maintain adequate room temperature;
- Avoid tightfitting footwear, jewelry, and clothes that may compress the blood vessels;
- Even wearing cotton gloves while emptying the refrigerator can be helpful.
While not deadly, Raynaud’s phenomenon can affect the quality of your life, but there are ways to prevent or lessen that. Be vigilant, watch for the early symptoms of the disease like cold and numb digits that can swell and change color.
If you happen to have it, be persistent. Follow your doctor’s advice. Apply the prescribed medication and make the necessary changes to your lifestyle. Sometimes even home remedies can be helpful. Do not give up and you will be able to control the disease.