- Written by Suzy Cohen Suzy Cohen
Raynaud’s disease, often characterized by its telltale cold fingers and toes, is more than just a fleeting discomfort for people. It’s a window into the complexities of our vascular system.
Raynaud’s disease, also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s syndrome, is a condition characterized by episodic narrowing (vasospasm) of the blood vessels, leading to decreased blood flow to the affected areas.
This most commonly affects the fingers and toes but can also impact the nose, ears, and lips. The reduced blood flow turns the affected areas pale or blue while feeling cold and numb. The areas may turn red and throb or tingle as blood flow returns.
There are two main types of Raynaud’s:
Primary Raynaud’s (Raynaud’s disease): This is the most common form and isn’t linked to any other medical condition. It’s generally less severe than secondary Raynaud’s.
Secondary Raynaud’s (Raynaud’s phenomenon): This type is caused by an underlying health condition and tends to be more serious than primary Raynaud’s.
Symptoms can be triggered by:
Cold temperatures: Even mild changes in temperature, such as taking something out of the freezer or being exposed to cold air, can trigger an episode. Cold water can also be a trigger.
Emotional stress: For some people, stress or anxiety can provoke an episode of Raynaud’s.
Work-related causes: The use of vibrating tools, like a sander or drill or other machinery, can trigger Raynaud’s symptoms in some individuals. Even typing!
Medications: Certain drugs can cause or worsen Raynaud’s symptoms, including beta blockers, migraine medications that contain ergotamine, certain chemotherapy agents, and over-the-counter cold medications.
Repetitive actions: Repetitive activities that cause strain on the hands or fingers, such as typing or playing the piano, might trigger symptoms in some people.
Tobacco use: Smoking or vaping can exacerbate Raynaud’s symptoms by narrowing the blood vessels.
Injuries: Physical trauma to the hands or feet, like fractures, surgery, or frostbite, can be a trigger.
Other medical conditions: In secondary Raynaud’s, symptoms can be triggered by the underlying disease or condition, such as Ehlers-Danlos lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
While managing Raynaud’s can be challenging, understanding its ties to other conditions, like thyroid disease and autoimmune disorders, can shed light on effective treatment strategies. I’m a believer in getting to the root cause.
Let’s delve into six of the most recommended ways to alleviate the symptoms of this condition.
1. Biofeedback training: This technique employs electronic monitoring to convey information about physiological processes. By understanding your body’s responses, you can, with practice, learn to promote relaxation and warmth in extremities. It’s not a cure, though.
2. Calcium channel blockers: Medications like amlodipine or nifedipine can help relax the blood vessels and increase blood flow to the extremities. These drugs have been proven effective in decreasing the severity and frequency of Raynaud’s attacks in many patients, but again, it’s not a cure.
3. Protect yourself from cold: Simple measures, such as wearing gloves, can make a significant difference. Ensure you dress warmly, and limit exposure to cold environments.
4. Avoid caffeine and smoking: Sorry, but both nicotine and caffeine will constrict blood vessels and limit blood flow. Avoiding them can help reduce the symptoms of Raynaud’s. On this continuum, where meds restrict blood flow, ADHD medications and oral decongestants should be avoided or minimized.
5. Regular exercise: This is great! Engaging in routine physical activity can help improve circulation. Ensure any outdoor exercise during colder months (even walking the dog during the snowy season) is done while wearing hats, gloves, or socks.
6. Stress management: Since stress can trigger Raynaud’s episodes, techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can be beneficial. Yoga in hot or warm settings may help because it promotes blood circulation.
Now let’s discuss the connection between Raynaud’s and thyroid disease, as well as autoimmune disorders. This has been an area of interest for researchers for many years. Studies have highlighted that people with Raynaud’s phenomenon often show symptoms of autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren’s disease.
The prevalence of Raynaud’s is also higher in people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Treating the underlying condition will help relieve the Raynaud’s symptoms.
Did you know Raynaud’s disease is named after the French doctor Maurice Raynaud, who first described the color changes in the fingers back in 1862? It’s always fascinating to trace medical conditions back to their historical roots! This condition has been around for a long time, and I wish it had more effective solutions.
If you would like to read a more comprehensive version of this article, it’s posted at my website, suzycohen.com.
This information is not intended to diagnose, prevent, or treat your disease. For more information about the author, visit suzycohen.com.