Raynaud’s Phenomenon is a rare disease that affects the blood vessels in the body. Affecting the fingers, toes, and occasionally the ears, nose, and chin, it is visible by the discoloration and bone-chillingly cold feel on the skin. This happens because the blood vessels narrow when one begins to feel stressed or is tripped by a significant temperature difference in their environment. Once the blood flow returns to normal function, the vessels widen, causing a red color and tingling feeling in the parts that were affected. With the most severe cases of Raynaud’s Phenomenon, skin and tissue can actually die and become necrotic from the lack of blood flow and oxygen to the area.
There are two main types of Raynaud’s Phenomenon: primary and secondary. Primary Raynaud’s Phenomenon happens on its own without any signs or other illnesses. Secondary Raynaud’s Phenomenon happens along side of another illness like cancer or many autoimmune diseases. This condition is most common in women and tends to affect those who live in colder climates even more than others.
There are some simple measures that those who suffer from Raynaud’s Phenomenon can try to help alleviate their symptoms. These things are:
- soaking your hands in warm water or gently warming them when an attack first begins.
- keeping your hands and feet warm and covered in cold and frigid weather.
- avoiding certain medications and stress triggers can help ease the frequency of Raynaud’s attacks.
- warming your vehicle before using it to drive in cold weather.
- wearing protective covering over your hands when getting gas in your vehicle or touching other cold metal items.
- when in air conditioning, wear sock indoors to protect feet from the bursts of cold air.
- wear heated clothing in the winter in cold climates to help keep your core body warm.
Causes of Raynaud’s Phenomenon
While primary Raynaud’s Phenomenon has no real connections and has the ability to correct itself on its own, secondary Raynaud’s attacks have numerous possible causes. Some of those causes are:
- Cancer. The medications and general chaos within the body during diagnosis and treatment often triggers Raynaud’s attacks. These attacks usually do not last longer than treatment runs.
- Diseases of the arteries. This includes any buildup of plaque in blood vessels that feed the heart. This is also called atherosclerosis. This can cause different parts of the body to become swollen and inflamed (mainly the hands and feet) and can also cause high blood pressure that eventually affects the lungs.
- Connective tissues diseases. Most people who have a rare disease known for hardening and scarring of the skin called Scleroderma have Raynaud’s Phenomenon. Other diseases increase your risk of developing Raynaud’s attacks. Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, and Sjogren’s Syndrome are just a few of the many more that exist.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. This is a condition that affects your hands because there is too much pressure on a major nerve in your forearm, wrist and hand. The pain from carpal tunnel can make hands unusable.
- Repetitive actions or vibrations like playing an instrument, being an artist, or doing the same movements with your hands over and over again. This could be typing, working with machinery, or operating other types of tools. People who drive for a living also report this condition.
- Injuries to the hands or feet that include fractures, frostbite, or surgeries.
- Smoking constricts blood vessels, which can cause more frequent Raynaud’s attacks.
- Certain types of medications that include beta blockers, migraine medications, ADHD medications, chemotherapy medications, and any other medication that causes blood vessels to narrow within the body. This also includes over the counter cold medications.
Risk Factors for Developing Raynaud’s Phenomenon
While these attacks can come on unprovoked, there are sometimes reasons that they are triggered. Avoiding these triggers could mean less frequent attacks of primary or secondary Raynaud’s.
- Climate. This disorder affects more people who live in colder climates.
- Age. Although anyone can develop this disease, the average age of diagnosis is between fifteen and thirty years old.
- Family History. If your first-degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) has the disease, this will increase your risk factor for primary Raynaud’s Phenomenon.
- Gender. More women are affected than men.
- Associated diseases.
- Certain occupations.
- Exposure to certain substances. This can include being exposed to any carcinogen, medication, or chemicals in the air.
Signs and Symptoms of Raynaud’s Phenomenon
The signs and symptoms of this common disease are:
- cold fingers or toes, or both
- color changes in your skin with temperature changes
- prickly, numb or painfully tingly feeling in your hands and feet as temperatures attempt to regulate in your body
During a Raynaud’s attack, the skin changes color from normal flesh tone to white, blue, spotted, to molted looking. The skin affected by color change will be cold to the touch, sometimes feeling frigid and icy. As you begin to regulate and the attack passes, your skin may feel sore, hot, and be painful to the touch.
Diagnosis and Medications used to treat Raynaud’s Phenomenon
There is no one test to diagnose Raynaud’s disease. If your doctor suspects that you have a connective tissue disease, cancer, or an autoimmune disease, they will most likely order blood tests to help determine which type of Raynaud’s you are dealing with. These tests are:
- Antinuclear antibody test. A positive ANA test shows if your immune system is being overly stimulated. This is common for people suffering from connective tissue or autoimmune disorders.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate. This ESR test determines the rate that your red blood cells settle to the bottom of a test tube. A faster rate signifies an underlying autoimmune or inflammatory condition.
Medications prescribed to help treat Raynaud’s attacks are:
- Vasodilators are drugs which help relax the blood vessels.
- Calcium channel blockers are drugs that relax and open small blood vessels in your hands and feet, thusly reducing the frequency and severity of the attacks in most who suffer from this disease. This drug can also help heal skin ulcers on your hands and feet.
In severe cases, nerve surgery may be scheduled. In surgery, the nerves are cut to end the misfiring and suffering. This can lead to other issues which your doctor would discuss upon consultation. There are also new treatments that involve injecting Botox or something similar into the affected area of the damaged nerve to help block symptoms.
If you suspect that you are suffering from Raynaud’s Phenomenon consult your doctor upon your next visit. If you have developed a sore on your hand or feet in the area where your skin is discolored from an attack, let your doctor know, as this wound might take longer to heal in extreme cases. If you find yourself struggling to keep your cold skin comfortable, discuss with your doctor the options you have to find relief.