Raynaud's Disease

Having had Raynaud's for about two years now, my hands are constantly the coldest out of my friends. However, Raynaud's is quite a common disorder and affects around 3-20% of the worldwide population, especialy women, with approximately 10% of women in the UK suffering from it to some extent.

Raynaud's is also very common in teenagers, often emerging during puberty but then disappearing once you reach your early 20s.

What causes Raynaud's?
It occurs when your blood vessels go into a temporary spasm, which blocks the flow of blood to that area of the body (usually the fingers and toes.) These spasms are caused by disruptions to the nervous system but the exact causes are still unclear. There is some evidence that it is hereditary and runs in the family.

What are the symptoms?
It usually causes your fingers to turn white, or purple or even blue. For me, my middle fingers usually turn white and feel numb with pins and needles, however they usually return back to normal after about 15 minutes of warmth indoors, after which, my extremities turn very red/orange.

These colour changes happen in three different stages. Firstly when your fingers are white due to a lack of blood supply. Then they turn blue due to a lack of oxygen, then they turn bright red as the blood returns at a higher rate than normal. Throbbing pain and tingling comes with the return of the blood in the fingers.

What are the treatments?
Well, there isn't a specific cure for Raynaud's, mostly you have to try and control the symptoms yourself. For example, I have been wearing gloves for the past month to try and keep my hands warm, and I avoid touching cold things without gloves. Also wearing thick, warm footwear and generally wrapping up warm in cold weather. Keeping stress levels down by taking regular exercise and using relaxation techniques is usually recommended.

However, if these self-help treatments don't work, medication called Nifedipine can be used. This is a calcium channel blocker which encourages your blood vessels to widen. I usually take them up to three times a day when the weather is very cold. However, they do have common side effects, and I find I sometimes have headaches or trouble sleeping, which is why I only try and take them when absolutely necessary.

Raynaud's leading to chilblains
Beacause I suffer from Raynaud's, I am also more prone to chilblains. Chilblains are small, itchy and painful reddish swellings, a bit like blisters which develop on the fingers and toes when the skin cools down, causing the tiny blood vessels to constrict severely. Because of the poor blood supply, these chilblains sometimes do not heal very quickly and can become infected. So I try and avoid dramatic temperature changes such as getting out a hot shower and stepping straight onto cold tiles, or coming in from outside and warming my hands and feet on the radiator. Ointments like Balmosa can be rubbed on the affected area to increase blood supply, but apart from that it is the same self-treatment as Raynaud's.

But it's not all doom and gloom for Raynaud's sufferers... you know what they say, cold hands = warm heart!

No comments: