Everything You Need to Know About Raynaud’s

31st January 2022

February is Raynaud’s Awareness Month, but what is Raynaud’s, and what should you do if you think you might have it? In this blog, we will explore everything that you need to know about the condition.

 

What is Raynaud’s?

Raynaud’s (pronounced “Ray-nords”) is a condition that affects the small blood vessels in the extremities. It most commonly occurs in the hands, fingers, feet and toes, but can also affect the lips, nose, ears or nipples. The blood vessels become overly sensitive to changes in temperature, especially cold conditions. In some people, emotional stress can trigger blood vessel sensitivity.

This sensitivity in the blood vessels leads to the extremities feeling cold, numb or painful, as well as resulting in a colour change in the skin. 

Raynauds awareness month

 

What are the signs and symptoms of Raynaud’s?

The signs and symptoms of Raynaud’s occur as a result of increased sensitivity in the small blood vessels. 

In health, it is normal for blood vessels in the extremities to become narrowed when they are exposed to the cold. In Raynaud’s, however, cold conditions or emotional stress can prompt a more extreme reaction. In what is known as a Raynaud’s attack, the blood vessels constrict so much that the blood supply to the extremities is reduced. This causes:

 

A noticeable change in the colour of the skin

Many people report that their skin becomes white, then blue, before turning red as the blood vessels widen again.

 

Pain or discomfort

A Raynaud’s attack can be very uncomfortable. However, some people find that Raynaud’s is most painful when the circulation starts to return. When the extremities warm up, or the stressful situation resolves, fingers or toes may feel like they are stinging or throbbing.

 

Numbness and reduced function

Numbness is a common symptom. When numbness occurs in the hands, it can make it difficult to perform manual tasks such as zipping up a coat or being able to use your front door key. 

 

What is the difference between primary and secondary Raynaud’s?

Primary Raynaud’s is much more common than secondary Raynaud’s. 

Primary Raynaud’s is a form of Raynaud’s that occurs on its own without being connected to another medical condition. It is less likely to cause additional problems and tends to be less severe than secondary Raynaud’s.

Secondary Raynaud’s is caused by another condition or underlying factor. This is often an autoimmune condition such as scleroderma or lupus. People who have secondary Raynaud’s are at a greater risk of developing complications such as sores or ulcers. For this reason, people with secondary Raynaud’s require regular monitoring by healthcare professionals.

 

Who might be affected by Raynaud’s?

Young women under 30 and girls are most likely to be affected by primary Raynaud’s. The condition may also be more likely in those who suffer from migraine. Other risk factors include:

  • Having a family member with Raynaud’s
  • Living in a colder climate.

Secondary Raynaud’s more commonly affects men and women over the age of 30. Risk factors include:

  • Having an autoimmune disease (a disease caused by an overactive immune system) including:
    • Scleroderma
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Sjogren’s syndrome
    • Lupus
  • Being diagnosed with another form of blood vessel disease including high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and Buerger’s disease
  • Having carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Undertaking repetitive movements, or chronic exposure to vibration due to long-term machinery use
  • Being a smoker
  • Having a hand or foot injury
  • Taking some medications including beta blockers, medications for migraine, ADHD and some forms of chemotherapy.

 

How common is Raynaud’s?

Research carried out by the charity Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK (SRUK) has shown that around 10 million people in the UK have a type of Raynaud’s.

Despite Raynaud’s affecting a huge number of people, SRUK found that almost half of adults in the UK are unaware of any of the signs of Raynaud’s. This means that many people might be living with Raynaud’s, or with someone who has symptoms of Raynaud’s, without realising that this unpleasant condition could be managed more effectively.

 

How is Raynaud’s diagnosed?

A diagnosis of Raynaud’s requires you to book an appointment with your GP. Often, a GP can make the diagnosis based on your symptoms and signs alone. However, blood tests are often recommended to rule out any other underlying causes or health conditions. 

In some cases, a water test may be performed to see if the symptoms of Raynaud’s can be elicited when the hand is placed into cool water.

 

What treatments are available for Raynaud’s? 

Treatment for Raynaud’s involves being both reactive to the symptoms, and proactive in preventing them from occurring in the first place. 

 

Reactive treatments

Your doctor may prescribe drugs such as nifedipine to help reduce the severity and frequency of Raynaud’s attacks. Nifedipine widens the blood vessels, helping to prevent severe blood vessel constriction. 

If nifedipine is not suitable, other medications are available that work in a different way to dilate the blood vessels. In some cases, topical creams can be applied to the affected areas to relieve symptoms.

Occasionally, surgery or Botox injections may be recommended.

 

Proactive precautions

As Raynaud’s is triggered by cold environments, repetitive vibrations, or stressful circumstances, mitigating these situations allows you to be proactive in preventing Raynaud’s attacks. The following have been shown to be helpful:

 

Try to keep your fingers and toes warm, especially in cold weather

  • Use well-fitting, insulating gloves
  • Wear warm socks and boots on colder days
  • Invest in hand or feet warmers
  • Keep the rest of your body warm by wearing lots of thin layers
  • Try using fleece blankets or thermal shoe insoles when it is cold.

Try to limit emotional stress

  • Try to avoid events or situations that are stressful or induce anxiety
  • Practice breathing exercises
  • Try a mindfulness app
  • Consider counselling or CBT to help you manage stress or to explore your emotions further.

 

Consider complimentary medicine or lifestyle changes including:

  • Trying acupuncture
  • Following a healthy diet
  • Eating a diet rich in garlic, ginger or spices
  • Stopping smoking
  • Taking food supplements such as evening primrose oil, fish oils and gingko biloba
  • Gentle exercise.

 

If applicable, you should also try to avoid the use of vibrating tools or carrying out repetitive movements in the fingers, such as typing or playing the piano.

 

How can I manage a Raynaud’s attack when it occurs?

When you feel a Raynaud’s attack starting, you need to try to warm your hands, feet or another affected area as soon as possible. To start this process:

  • Move indoors or to a warmer part of the room or house
  • Gently wiggle your fingers or toes
  • Place your hands under your armpits
  • Circle your arms, or sit down and draw a figure of eight with each leg
  • Place your hands or feet under warm water (make sure the water is not hot)
  • Massage your hands, feet or the affected area
  • Leave a stressful situation or try a stress-relieving activity such as breathing exercises or mindfulness.

 

Where can I find more information on Raynaud’s?

For more information on Raynaud’s, a wealth of information can be found on the website for the charity Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK.

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