Raynaud's Disease: When The Hands And Feet Become Numb And Change Color Due To Exposure To Cold
Raynaud’s phenomenon (also called Raynaud’s disease, Raynaud’s syndrome or simply Raynaud’s) is a disorder in which blood vessels in your hands and feet constrict in response to cold temperatures or stress, causing your fingers and toes to change color and feel cold and numb. It’s estimated that about 5% of Americans have Raynaud’s. Raynaud’s can be primary (the cause is unknown and the symptoms are usually mild) or secondary (develops as a result of a medical problem or the use of certain medicines, and its symptoms are more bothersome).
Symptoms of Raynaud’s
It’s normal for blood vessels that are close to the skin to narrow as a result of exposure to cold temperature. But in Raynaud’s, the vessels become too narrow, temporarily cutting off blood supply to your fingers and toes (rarely, nose, ears, and nipples may also be affected). Raynaud’s attack usually lasts a couple of minutes, but in some cases, it can continue for hours.
Symptoms of Raynaud’s include the following:
- fingers, toes, or other affected areas feel cold and numb;
- the affected areas change color to white or blue, and then to red as the blood supply becomes normal again;
- tingling or burning sensation as the blood flow to the affected areas resumes.
Although it’s uncommon, Raynaud’s can lead to skin sores and gangrene in severe cases.
Causes of Raynaud’s
It’s not clear what causes primary Raynaud’s. Causes of secondary Raynaud’s include the following:
- certain diseases and conditions, including scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, lupus, Sjögren's syndrome, and thyroid disorders;
- repetitive actions, such as typing, playing the piano, and working with vibrating tools, e.g. jackhammers and drills;
- trauma to the hands or feet;
- being exposed to certain chemicals, including vinyl chloride and nicotine;
- certain medicines, including beta blockers that are used to treat high blood pressure.
How to prevent Raynaud’s attacks
If you have Raynaud’s, there are measures that you can take to avoid an attack. Try the following:
- dress warmly when you go outside in cold weather protecting your hands and feet with warm socks and gloves or mittens;
- warm your car before driving in cold weather;
- if stress triggers attacks, try relaxation techniques to relieve stress;
- dress warmly in areas where the air conditioning is on;
- exercise regularly to improve circulation in your extremities;
- if you take medicines that affect blood circulation, ask your doctor whether he or she can adjust the dosage or prescribe a different medicine to prevent Raynaud’s symptoms.
This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.