Throughout February the Raynaud’s and Scleroderma Association are running their awareness event. To get involved or make donations please visit their webpage.
Chances are many of us won’t have heard of Raynaud’s disease (also known as Raynaud’s Phenomenon) yet it is relatively common. Somewhere between 3 to 5 in 100 people have it, a higher percentage of sufferers are women and it will commonly start to develop in teenage years.
Raynaud’s is not a fatal condition and for many it represents little more than occasional discomfort and annoyance. With no known cure however the drive to raise awareness, as with other uncurable conditions such as eczema, serves to provide practical tips for minimising attacks and highlights the possible treatments available.
Simply put Raynaud’s describes an extreme reduction of blood flow leading to numbness, pain and tingling in the extremities. The fingers and toes are most commonly affected but Raynaud’s has also been known to develop in the nose and ears. Sufferers will commonly experience discolouration changing from white, a sign of lack of blood flow, to blue, as blood vessels dilate, sometimes changing to red as blood flow returns. Raynaud’s, like eczema can ‘flare’ up’ and disappear again most commonly triggered by exposure to cold, though emotional stress has also been cited as a possible cause.
In more severe cases sores and ulcers may develop and symptoms can be more painful, yet the condition can be easily managed and controlled.
The onset of Raynaud’s can either come as a result of an underlying condition or by itself, with the common adage that it shows an ‘allergy to the cold’. There has been conjecture as to hereditary predisposition to Raynaud’s yet specific genes have not yet been isolated.
Known causes for Raynaud’s include:
- Diseases of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
- Drugs that cause narrowing of the arteries (amphetamines, some beta-blockers, some cancer drugs, some migraine medications).
- Autoimmune conditions (SLE-lupus, scleroderma, sjogrens, RA).
- Repeated injury or usage (i.e., typing, piano, heavy use of hand tools).
The workforce at large hammering away at PCs all day can take some reassurance that there are prescription treatments including:
- Calcium Channel Blockers. (i.e., Nifedipine and Diltiazem) These help reduce the frequency and severity of attacks by enlarging blood vessels to increase blood circulation.
- Vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin. These are topical treatments which can both relax the blood vessel walls and help heal ulcers. Ingested medicines for other conditions can also be prescribed. These include high blood pressure treatments such as Cozaar, antidepressants like Sarafem and Prozac and even Viagra.
- Alpha Blockers (i.e., Minipress and Cardura). These combat the effects of the hormone norepinephrine which can constrict the blood vessels.
Nerve surgery has also been used to treat Raynaud’s where cutting the sympathetic nerves in your hands and feet is intended to reduce extreme reactions to cold, although such treatment is not always hugely successful. Similarly chemical injections have been used to block sympathetic nerve activity. For the most severe of cases where blood flow is completely blocked, gangrene can occur resulting in amputation.
For those keen to avoid pharmaceutical treatments there are natural alternatives. Gingko is known for improving circulation and Fish OIl can potentially improve reaction to cold and slow down the effect Raynaud’s has on the blood vessels.
As with any alternative treatment it’s best to consult your Doctor before use.
Should you have Raynaud’s there are a number of steps you can take that will greatly reduce the frequency of attacks
- Stop smoking
- Avoid caffeine
- Exercise more often
- Keep the body warm, especially in cold weather, wear gloves outdoors
- Wear roomy shoes with woollen socks.
If you suffer an attack of Raynaud’s moving to a warmer area will help as can wiggling your fingers and toes. You can increase circulation by making circular movements with your arms and massaging the effected area can also help.
Whilst distressing, the effects of Raynaud’s can be reduced by following the advice above and needn’t have a negative impact on your life. If you suspect you suffer with Raynaud’s it’s always best to seek diagnosis from your Doctor.
Above all, keep those hands and feet warm.