Most people have experienced numbness in their hands and feet, especially after sleeping in poor positions all night long. But while an occasional loss of sensation in your extremities isn’t anything to worry out, this symptom combined with a loss in color in cold temperatures can be the sign of something much more serious.
We’re talking about Raynaud’s disease, also known as Raynaud’s syndrome or Raynaud’s phenomenon, which is a rare condition that affects the arteries and the flow of blood throughout the body. After looking at the symptoms and risk factors, we’ll look at what you can do to prevent it.
What is Raynaud’s Disease?
While it goes by various names, the most important thing to remember about Raynaud’s is that it can cause vasospasm, a sudden narrowing of the blood vessels. When an attack takes place, the blood becomes restricted from reaching the extremities, leaving them white and cold.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) notes that most people notice the symptoms in their fingers: “In about 40 percent of people who have Raynaud’s, it affects the toes. Rarely, the disorder affects the nose, ears, nipples, and lips.”
There are two types of Raynaud’s: primary and secondary. The former is disorder unconnected to any other health issue, while in the latter is linked to an underlying condition.
Regardless of the type, symptoms are the same. The proximate causes of an episode are stress- and/or temperature-related. Once the blood is interrupted, the extremities go numb and turn white or even blue.
Once the attack dies down, feeling and color return, though often with throbbing, tingling, and redness. Whether it’s primary or secondary Raynaud’s, the disorder can occur with even slight temperature changes. “For example, taking something out of the freezer or being exposed to temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) can cause your fingers to turn blue,” as NHLBI explains.
The upshot is that Raynaud’s is quite rare, affecting less than 5 percent of the population. Another word of good news is that the disorder can be largely regulated by easy-to-implement lifestyle changes.
Raynaud’s disproportionately affects women over the age of 30 living in cold climates. If this is you, it’s especially important to do what you can to prevent its onset.
Risk factors that are more occupation specific include repeated hand movement and exposure to chemicals in plastic manufacturing. Smoking also seems to increase risk, which makes sense given its detrimental effects on arteries and blood circulation.
What can be done to combat Raynaud’s? If you experience the symptoms described above, you should first and foremost consult a doctor. The techniques they might recommend for preventing an attack include a variety of simple measures.
The first group concerns temperature. Bundling up in cold weather with mittens or gloves to protect sensitive hands is important. Keeping feet warm by wearing wool socks and leggings with well-insulated boots can also help.
Beyond staying warm in winter, Raynaud’s sufferers can avoid certain kinds of medication that exacerbate the condition. According to the NHLBI, these include beta-blockers, birth control pills, and over-the-counter drugs for cold and allergies, all of which can cause the arteries to narrow, setting you up for a Raynaud’s attack.
Last but not least, living a healthy lifestyle with plenty of physical activity and movement is important. In addition to improving your overall circulation, you can do some targeted exercises that will help, such as moving your arms in a circle, wiggling your hands and feet, and massaging them.
Although there’s still a great deal that researchers don’t know about Raynaud’s, keeping healthy and avoiding risk factors including smoking and drinking can go a long way.
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