If we go outside in the winter without mittens on, we’ll probably see our fingers turn white, and we might even get pins and needles. That’s just our body’s normal reaction to cold temperatures, and our hands will go back to normal once we warm them up. However, for some people those symptoms can be the sign of a more serious condition, called Raynaud’s disease, which can be harmful to their health.
We at Bright Side wanted to know more about this disease, its symptoms, and how to prevent it. Here’s what we found out!
What is Raynaud’s disease
When Raynaud’s disease occurs, the arteries that supply blood to your skin narrow because of cold temperatures or emotional stress. This, in turn, causes your hands, toes, and sometimes your other body parts to turn white and/or blue and feel numb. Then they turn red when the blood flow returns. This process can also be accompanied by pain. The symptoms ordinarily only last a few seconds or minutes, but they can last up to several hours in severe cases.
Causes of Raynaud`s disease
There are 2 types of Raynaud’s — primary (Raynaud’s disease) and secondary (Raynaud syndrome).
The cause of primary Raynaud’s is unknown. It’s normal for the blood vessels that are close to your skin to shrivel when it’s cold. But when people have Raynaud’s disease, their vessels shrink more and faster than normal. However, it’s milder and more common than Raynaud syndrome, and often doesn’t need any treatment.
Secondary Raynaud’s (Raynaud syndrome), on the other hand, happens because of an underlying condition or other factor. It’s less common than Raynaud’s disease, but it can cause serious health problems, like skin sores and gangrene. For this type, medication or surgery is sometimes needed.
Some causes of Raynaud syndrome are:
- Diseases and conditions that damage the arteries or the nerves that control the arteries in the hands and feet (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis and atherosclerosis)
- Repetitive actions that damage the arteries or the nerves that control the arteries (e.g. typing or playing the piano over long periods of time)
- Medicine that narrows the arteries
- Exposure to certain chemicals (e.g. nicotine)
- Injuries to the hands or feet
Symptoms of Raynaud`s disease
Raynaud’s syndrome usually affects fingers and toes, but it can also affect other body parts, like the nose, ears, lips, and nipples.
Due to cold temperatures or emotional stress, the arteries can become narrow and reduce or cut off the blood supply to certain areas. That can cause them to:
- Turn white and then blue
- Feel cold, numb, or painful
- Turn red, tingle, or burn when the blood flow returns
How you can prevent a Raynaud’s episode
In order to prevent a Raynaud’s disease attack, try to:
- Avoid cold temperatures and wear warm clothes, especially on your hands and feet
- Exercise regularly — it helps improve circulation
- Limit your use of caffeine and alcohol
- Avoid putting too much pressure on your fingertips
- Stop smoking
- Avoid emotional stress and learn to manage it
Have your fingers ever turned white? Do you or does anyone you know have this syndrome? What helps you or them prevent a Raynaud’s episode?
Illustrated by Alena Sofronova for BrightSide.me