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Cold Hands? You Might Have Raynaud’s

Posted in General Health 12 Feb, 2015

Every February is Raynaud's Awareness Month, a time for promoting knowledge about this common but largely misunderstood condition. Affecting around 10 million people in the UK, Raynaud's is a condition that almost certainly affects someone you know. As February is the coldest month of the year, according to statistics, it's a good time to talk about how this condition can affect those who are particularly sensitive to the cold.

In most people the body saves heat for when it becomes cold by narrowing the blood vessels. In people with Raynaud's it's a little different and the body's reaction to cold is much stronger than normal, making the blood vessels narrow faster and tighter, leading to discomfort and in some cases pain and a change in colour. During an 'attack', fingers and toes can turn to blue or red and they can feel cold and numb until, as the attack ends and as blood flow returns, the fingers or toes can begin to throb and tingle.

You might have heard of Raynaud's and the conditions might sound familiar, but most people don't realise that there's more than one type. Primary Raynaud's is often so mild that a person won't bother seeking treatment, whereas Secondary Raynaud's is the result of another condition reducing blood flow to the fingers and toes, resulting in the symptoms. Diagnosing Raynaud's is simple because the symptoms are clear – what is difficult though, is diagnosing which of the two types of Raynaud's a person is experiencing. To decide upon which type a patient suffers from, a doctor will use a complete medical history, an exam, and tests that can include fingernail tissues and blood analyses. It is important to know which type a person has in case they are experiencing any other conditions that are not yet diagnosed but may be causing their symptoms.

Treating Raynaud's is normally about reducing the number of attacks a person suffers with, making the attacks less severe when they do happen or preventing lasting damage. Primary Raynaud's does not lead to tissue damage though, so the risks are lower and normally non-drug treatments are used first to combat symptoms. Anything that keeps the hands and feet warm can therefore be looked at as a treatment for Primary Raynaud's sufferers, that means that keeping dry, avoiding air conditioning and wearing gloves are, for some people, necessary prevention measures. Regular exercise, a healthy diet and not smoking also help reduce the symptoms. For secondary Raynaud's though, treatment can become more serious with blood pressure medicines and medications that relax the blood vessels being offered in some cases.

Research is being done to find new ways to prevent the symptoms of Raynaud's disease and to lessen its effects but for now the best way to avoid any long term or lasting damage is to wrap up warm and ensure that, as much as possible, your fingers and toes are kept away from the cold. It's especially difficult at this time of year but look on the upside, spring is just around the corner... nearly!

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