Raynaud’s syndrome explained
The cold weather condition that affects 10 million of us – and women significantly more than men
By Jo Dunbar
February marks an awareness month for Raynaud’s syndrome; even if you haven’t heard of the debilitating condition, the chances are you know someone who has it.
We all might moan about being cold or curse ourselves when we set out on our daily exercise only to find that we’ve left our gloves at home. However, for Raynaud’s sufferers, not layering up correctly can lead to severe pain in hands, feet, and even lips, nose, ears and nipples.
It’s estimated that 10 million people in the UK cope with Primary Raynaud’s syndrome, with women four times more likely to develop the condition than men. Raynaud’s syndrome is when our extremities, usually fingers and toes, are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature. People with Raynaud’s may experience their fingers turning white, red or blue as a reaction to a change in temperature. The change in colour can also be accompanied by numbness and pain.
While we might assume wintry weather makes Raynaud’s syndrome worse, in actual fact cold temperatures at any time can trigger a reaction: some sufferers even report feeling symptoms after exposure to cold air in the supermarket freezer aisle or reaching into their ice box at home. Although the exact cause of Raynaud’s syndrome remains unknown, lifestyle factors such as stress levels and smoking are known to make the condition worse.
Symptoms that indicate Raynaud’s syndrome include:
- very cold fingers and toes
- skin colour changing in response to temperature or stress
- numbness or tingling pain in the affected area
- a stinging or throbbing feeling as hands or feet warm up again
Additionally, open wounds or ulcers on fingertips can signify the presence of Secondary Raynaud’s – which is a more debilitating and serious version of the condition and affects far fewer people.
If you suspect you are suffering from Raynaud’s, you can be diagnosed by your GP after a few simple tests.
While there is currently no cure for Raynaud’s, there are steps you can take to ease the symptoms. Practical tips – like always remembering to wear thick gloves when you go outside in cold weather, and dressing with many thin layers – will help and will allow you to carry on taking wintry walks or exercising outside, even in colder temperatures. It’s important to warm yourself up with a hot drink and dry clothes if you get wet or sweaty after exercise. Similarly, ensure you stretch and warm up before you begin a workout and keep hand warmers nearby for when your body starts to cool down.
Research has shown that symptoms worsen if you smoke, so taking steps to quit could help ease the condition. Stress can exacerbate Raynaud’s syndrome and, as such, it is thought that mindfulness practices and activities which ease stress will help to minimise symptoms.
A dedicated charity, Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK, has been set up to further research Raynaud’s Syndrome and ultimately look to finding a cure. Visit their website for more information, advice and support if you suspect symptoms or want to find out more.