It’s not just the weather that can cause cold fingers
Winter is on its way and that can mean cold hands. But for nine million British people, the problem is not just the change in weather; it is also due to Raynaud’s disease.
Raynaud’s disease is surprisingly common, and it affects women more than men - nine out of every ten sufferers are female.
What happens is that the condition causes blood vessels to go into a temporary spasm which blocks the flow of blood. Generally it is triggered by cold temperatures or stress and symptoms often last only a few minutes although they can continue for several hours.
In its basic form, it is not a serious threat to health although it can be difficult to live with. It often begins when people are in their 20s and 30s but it can develop at any age. When at attack happens, the skin starts to white and will feel very cold. Depending on the severity of the condition, the tips of the fingers can become totally numb and even turn to a bluish colour. When the blood begins to return, it can cause severe pain.
Sufferers from this disease can also develop sores and patches of hard skin in the finger tips because of the problems with blood flow.
Treatment depends on how severe the problem is and often is a simple matter of ensuring hands are kept warm, perhaps using thermal gloves when going out in winter. In more severe cases, doctors can prescribe medication that can help such as vasodilators, medicine with opens up the small blood vessels.
However, a main problem is if the condition develops into Secondary Renaud’s disease. This causes far more severe symptoms and can have a severe affect on normal lifestyle - visiting the chiller section of a supermarket, for instance, is said to cause unbearable pain in some sufferers. Even retrieving coins from a purse can become almost impossible.
Many cases of Secondary Raynaud’s are related to a problem in the immune system when it changes and starts to attack healthy tissue, leading to rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Secondary Raynaud’s is also associated with scleroderma which causes acute symptoms and in severe cases can bring on finger ulcers and infection resulting in extreme cases in tissue death and gangrene.
Today there is a range of treatments available, including one specific drug Nifedipine which has been licenced especially for Raynaud’s. Prozac is also used to block the hormone serotonin which constricts blood vessels, and there are other drugs available to assist in individual conditions.
The key though is to get the disease diagnosed early, and before it has progressed into Secondary Renaud’s. This means that if you continually suffer from icy cold fingers, instead of just laughing about the cold weather and your poor circulation, make an appointment with your doctor.
There is more information on the specific website for Renaud’s sufferers: www.raynauds.org.uk
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