Raynaud's Phenomenon: More Common Than You Think

Are your fingers and toes often cold, even when the rest of you is warm? If so, you could have a condition known as Raynaud's disease, in which an interruption of blood flow to specific areas of the body (often the extremities but sometimes the nose and ears) makes them feel cold, turn different colors, and feel numb or prickly when they finally do get warm. But what causes this condition? Is it rare? And what can you do about it?

First, understand that Raynaud's disease is far from rare. Estimates are that anywhere from five to 10 percent of people have it, with women nine times more likely to be affected than men. The peak age for diagnosis is between 15 and 30 years old. In fact, some experts estimate that up to one-fifth of all women of childbearing age have Raynaud's. Not surprisingly, it occurs more often in colder climates. It often appears on its own, but it's not uncommon for Raynaud's to be associated with another disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, or thyroid disease. Having a family history of Raynaud's makes you more likely to have it yourself.

What causes this strange phenomenon? Obviously cold weather is a big factor, but stress can also bring about the restriction in blood flow and cause Raynaud's symptoms. To treat Raynaud's disease, doctors recommend the following:

  • Quit smoking. It's well known that smoking causes a constriction of blood vessels. In addition to other health complications, this reduction in blood flow can trigger an attack of Raynaud's.
  • Work out. Exercise increases circulation, which is good for Raynaud's sufferers.
  • Relax. Since stress can cause the narrowing of blood vessels, it's important to teach yourself relaxation techniques that restore your emotional equilibrium.
  • Lay off the coffee. Caffeine, like smoke, can cause blood vessels to narrow.
  • Hang loose. Avoid wearing anything that compresses or constricts your extremities such as tight gloves and socks. Even snug rings and wristbands can aggravate the condition.

If none of these lifestyle changes help, your doctor may prescribe certain medications such as calcium channel blockers, which open up the blood vessels.

While Raynaud's isn't terribly dangerous in the majority of cases, the rare severe case can cause permanent deformity to the affected area. Ulcers and gangrene may also result. Severe cases usually require more than prescription drugs and may call for nerve surgery or chemical injection into the affected area



The Raynaud's Association, www.raynauds.org