Raynaud’s Phenomenon – What On Earth Is That?
Have you ever watched someone furiously rubbing their hands together in the cold? Sure, we all do that sometimes when it’s cold outside, don’t we? Have you ever seen someone do that when it’s warm outside? Maybe the thought running through your mind was something like, “You have issues!” Well, to the person that has Raynaud’s, it is an issue. A very painful one.
Raynaud’s is not only painful, but uncommon a well. You probably don’t even know anyone who has full-blown Raynaud’s, but you may even suffer a milder form of the phenomenon yourself. The phenomenon occurs when the small capillaries in fingers, toes, ears and nose constrict and prevent blood flow to the affected area. Most sufferers are affected in fingers and toes, more rarely in the ears and nose.
I will use the fingers as my example, as the fingers are most commonly affected, although the toes come a close second. All of the symptoms apply to not only the fingers, but toes, ears and nose also.
The first symptom is the appearance of ‘white’ or pale fingers. The fingers feel numb and fumbling with your car keys is just that, fumbling. The fingers are almost useless at this point, and perhaps a sense of fear strikes as you are unable to control the movement. Then the pain moves in, and you fear the worst – frostbite. But wait .. It’s not that cold out, and you only left the office a few minutes ago. So why do my fingers hurt so bad and why are they so pale?
Raynaud’s can strike at any time during your lifetime, and the cause is yet unknown. We do know that those affected have clear-cut symptoms; pale fingers or toes, numbness, and pain. Once the blood flow begins to return, the fingers or toes will have a ‘tingling’ sensation, or ‘pins and needles’ accompanied by a blue or purplish discolouration. There is also considerable pain associated with this stage as well.
Here is an attack of Raynaud’s explained; You’re outside to shovel the snow from your driveway, so you grasp the cold metal of the shovel handle, and ‘ouch!’ You remove the thick woolly gloves to see what has caused that sudden pain, and as you feebly grasp at one glove, maybe dropping it into the snow, you realise that your fingers not only hurt, but have become white in some portions. Rushing back into the house to find the kitchen sink and warm water, you worry you may have gotten frostbite. Running them under warm water becomes even more painful, and the fingers turn bluish or purple as the lack of oxygenated blood begins to affect the tips of your fingers and the skin tissue.
The pain can be excruciating at this point, with the rush of oxygen rich blood returning to your fingertips. There is nothing funny about this experience – it is just plain painful, and worrisome. However, in most cases, it will cause no long term problem. The exception is those who suffer the most severe case scenario.
To most who suffer with Raynaud’s, it will not matter how many pairs of gloves you wear, or how thick they are, because the cold will still get through somehow.
Primary Raynaud’s is not associated with any other underlying disease, but will be aggravated by smoking, caffeine, stress, or a predisposition to arthritis, which your doctor may test for if you report your Raynaud’s symptoms to him. Secondary Raynaud’s is different than primary, in that you likely have an underlying disorder or disease that triggers the attacks.
Secondary Raynaud’s sufferers may have (this list is not exhaustive): Eating disorders, such as anorexia, which in of itself is dangerous and should be taken care of by a physician. Other underlying causes are, connective tissue disorders, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis – painful in and of itself. Your doctor will test for this and may find that this is your primary cause of Raynaud’s. Obstructive disorders, or artery disorders, such as, Thromboangiitis may also be an underlying cause of Raynaud’s.
Other secondary causes involve medications that are used to restrict blood flow, such as blood pressure medications. Others are medications used to control diabetes, migraine, and arthritis. Some others are also an underlying cause, but it is best to consult your family doctor. Another factor is occupation. Constant vibration or exposure to cold may trigger a Raynaud’s attack, or at least make you more susceptible to Raynaud’s. In all secondary cases of Raynaud’s, there will be accompanying symptoms of the underlying disorder or disease that show up with the Raynaud’s symptoms.
In all cases, it is best to consult your doctor, as there may be an underlying issue that needs to be attended. Raynaud’s can be triggered by stress, and even in warmer temperatures. People that live in colder climates are at higher risk of developing or triggering Raynaud’s Phenomenon than those residing in warmer climates.
The best defence against Raynaud’s is keeping warm and avoiding activities that may trigger an attack. There is no cure, just prevention.
A fast fact about Raynaud’s – Most of us that suffer from it are usually more sensitive people! I can attest to that – I have Raynaud’s! Hope at least one of you found this Post to be useful. It is not something to be ignored, and you are not alone!