General Health Wednesday February 10, 2016

All About Raynaud's: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Raynaud's? What's that then? An estate agent? A French car manufacturer? Nope. It's neither of those.

Raynaud's syndrome/disease/phenomenon as it's sometimes called is a painful condition where fingers and toes throb, ache and cause a great deal of discomfort after exposure to the cold. In some folk this can extend to the nose, ears and nipples in breastfeeding mothers.

Although the NHS says the condition is common, barely anyone seems to have heard of it. That's why February is Raynaud's Awareness Month.

Scientifically speaking

Raynaud's is the constriction of blood vessels that temporarily spasm and block the flow of blood. This causes red, blue and purple extremities not to mention pain, numbness, pins and needles and a burning sensation.

In reality it's like gripping a boiled kettle.

What causes it?

Raynaud's can be brought on by changes in temperature, stress, anxiety, or as a secondary symptom of an illness.

I have primary Raynaud's (sorry to bore you) and I find that low temperatures such as chilly weather, retrieving food from the freezer, holding a cold lager or swimming after a sunbathe sets off tingles which can develop into spasms if my temperature isn't immediately sorted out. Often it's the warming-up phase that sets me off.

Levels of pain vary from tingles to agonising pain, but I believe it's entirely acceptable to cry, swear or dance around the room with hands squeezed between your knees even when in public.

Secondary Raynaud's is when the symptoms are brought on by another health problem such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Secondary Raynaud's can lead to restriction of the blood supply and then scarring and ulcers.

What's the cure?

Sadly there isn't one and symptoms need to be managed. Here are some tips:

  • Cut down on or quit smoking as it constricts arteries.

  • Cut down on alcohol and caffeine.

  • Plan ahead. Take gloves, hand-warmers, thick socks and a hat when you head out in bad weather. Of course playing in the snow is out of bounds for a Raynaud's sufferer too. You may long to make Frosty the Snowman, but you'll need to give directions from the dining room window with a warm drink in your gloved hands instead.

  • Wear gloves and try heated hand or pocket warmers - it's all about keeping a consistent temperature.

  • Wear thin layers that are loose.

  • Some people find fish oils, gingko biloba, evening primrose, ginger, garlic and spicy foods help.

  • In the worst cases doctors can prescribe vasodilators that open up the veins and allow blood to flow freely.

Does it affect children?

It can. It's pretty common in teens particularly around puberty, but it'll often vanish in their twenties. If your child is suffering from Raynaud's they need a check-up because it can indicate other problems.

It's estimated 10 million folk in the UK suffer from Raynaud's, if you are one of the 10 million you have my sympathy, comrade.

Take a good look around for aids that can help you, such as heated gloves and hand-warmers. Anything that keeps your hands warm when you are out in the cold will reduce the constriction of blood vessels.

Good luck, keep warm out there and remember - cold hands means a warm heart.


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