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What is Raynaud’s phenomenon?

Well now is the time of year where a good number of people develop this syndrome: “Raynaud's phenomenon is a common disorder in which the small blood vessels in the extremities are over-sensitive to changes in temperature. It affects….mainly females …approximately 10% of women in the UK suffer from Raynaud's to some degree.” [Raynauds.org.uk accessed 10/01/2014] Well I am one of those people who every year experiences this. So from now in, until end of March, you’ll see me our running, cycling, walking or even gardening on my allotment with gloves on. It’s my personal experience that Raynaud’s is also affected by the wind hitting the fingers, it’s not just a simple fact of the outside temperature being cold. For me the classic is to come in from a run, get distracted by answering emails etc. instead of going upstairs for a shower, and half an hour later when my sweaty body has cooled down and I’m now feeling cold and damp, and I suddenly realise that I’m losing the sensation in my fingers and they’re going white! All avoidable if I hadn’t been distracted! What happens in Raynaud’s?

It occurs because your blood vessels go into a temporary spasm which blocks the flow of blood. Most commonly affected are the fingers, though it can involve other parts of the body such as toes, nose, face etc. Firstly the fingers go cold and white as the small blood vessels in the fingers narrow (constrict), causing the fingers to loose sensation. Then the fingers can go a bluish colour, as the oxygen is used up quickly from the blood in the narrowed blood vessels. Finally the fingers go bright red, because blood vessels open up again (dilate) and the blood flow returns. This may cause tingling, throbbing, and pain (which can be severe in some cases). Raynaud's can be subdivided into primary or secondary. Most of us develop Primary Raynaud's which occurs spontaneously without any underlying condition being present and is often fairly mild. Secondary Raynaud's is less common and is associated with underlying diseases such as scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis, and is often more severe. What should we be doing about it? For the majority of us with mild Raynaud’s it’s about self-care:

  • Keep the hands and feet warm. Warm gloves, socks and shoes are essential when outside in cool weather.

  • Keep the whole body warm, Symptoms are less likely to occur if the entire body warm. For example, wear hats and scarves in addition to warm clothes.

  • Buy portable heat packs and battery heated gloves and socks. The Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association has a list of suppliers.

  • Try not to touch cold objects. For example, use a towel or gloves when removing food from the freezer or working with cold food.

  • Regular exercise is recommended by many experts. Exercise the hands and feet frequently to improve the circulation.

  • Smoking can make symptoms worse, by causing the blood vessels to narrow. The chemicals in tobacco can cause the small blood vessels to narrow.

  • Avoid Caffeine (in tea, coffee, cola and in some painkillers) triggers symptoms in some people. Cutting out caffeine for a few weeks may help.

For more details please click here. Did you know that February is also Raynaud’s awareness month. Jane Morris – Owner Centre for Complementary Health

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