An extreme sensitivity to the cold, and sometimes triggered by stress, this phenomenon is believed to affect 10 million people in the UK
No doubt we’ve all felt the familiar sting of the cold as winter draws in, the icy air prompting us to huddle up, rubbing our hands together to generate a little extra heat. It’s normal for our extremities to be sensitive to the cold, but for some this reaction can be much more extreme, as their fingers change colour when their circulation is impacted. But it’s not just a change in temperature that can affect them, as this response can be triggered by emotional stress as well.
If this sounds familiar, don’t worry, you’re not alone; this phenomenon is thought to affect around one in 20 people. Often referred to as Raynaud’s syndrome, Raynaud’s disease, or just Raynaud’s, the condition causes small blood vessels to become narrower, affecting the blood supply to certain parts of the body (usually the fingers and toes, but it can also affect the nose and ears).
There are many symptoms of the condition and, depending on the severity of those symptoms, it can greatly affect daily life – particularly in the winter months. These can include pins and needles or tingling sensations, pain and numbness, and difficulty in moving the affected areas of the body. Another key indicator can be a change to the colour of the skin as the blood flow is restricted, ranging from a lighter skin tone, to white, and even blue, before going red as the blood returns – known as a ‘Raynaud’s attack’.
Happiful’s Becky has first-hand experience of living with Raynaud’s. “I noticed that problems with my circulation worsened as I reached my later teenage years and early 20s. At first, numbness in my fingertips would be triggered by exposure to the cold, so I found that I would have to make an extra effort to wrap up warm in cold weather,” she shares. “But, it did get worse – and I would find that this feeling would seemingly be triggered of its own accord, sometimes even when I was indoors and felt warm. I’m led to believe that this may have been down to stress – but knowing this didn’t help me to feel any less stressed. It wouldn’t stop at my fingertips either, but pretty much my whole hand would turn white, feeling dead and useless for anything from five minutes, up to an hour.”
As Becky notes, these symptoms can not only be scary, and sometimes painful, but frustrating too as they impact her day-to-day life and routines. “It can be infuriating at times. It can often mean that I have little-to-no use of my fingers – which can make simple tasks like texting, or even driving, a lot more difficult.”
"At first, numbness in my fingertips would be triggered by exposure to the cold, but, it did get worse – and I would find that this feeling would seemingly be triggered of its own accord"
So, what should you do if you suspect you might have Raynaud’s? Well, first things first, it’s always best to speak to a doctor. This ensures that they can perform the proper tests to confirm the diagnosis, and check there’s nothing else to be aware of based on your symptoms. For more severe cases, they may prescribe medication to help improve your circulation as well.
There are things you can do at home to help reduce the impact of symptoms, particularly for those who might have more mild Raynaud’s. Naturally, a key step is to keep yourself warm – but also regularly doing activities to promote circulation can help, too.
- Ensure you wear warm clothing, particularly on your hands and feet where we lose a lot of our heat.
- Keep your home or surroundings at a good temperature.
- Try to exercise regularly, which helps to encourage blood flow around your body.
- Explore activities to help you relax, such as meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet, including foods to boost circulation such as oily fish and walnuts for omega 3, and spices like ginger, garlic, and chilli.
There are also a few things you might want to avoid, which can improve symptoms too. Smoking can reduce your circulation, so it’s best to avoid (for myriad other health reasons as well), and try not to have too much caffeine.
“At the moment, I am content that I know how to deal with these symptoms – my main priority is to generally avoid cold environments, and to carry a scarf with me wherever I go,” Becky says. “I also make sure I exercise regularly – in a bid to improve my circulation. For now, I am now comforted by the old saying, ‘cold hands, warm heart’.”
For more information and advice, visit Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK (sruk.co.uk) – the UK’s leading charity for people affected by the condition.