Millions of Americans suffer from a medical condition but don’t know its name: Raynaud’s phenomenon. Despite its prevalence — an estimated 15-30 million people have it (90% being female) — most are unaware that their pain has a medical explanation.
What is Raynaud’s phenomenon?
Raynaud’s is an extreme reaction to cold temperatures or stress. When the body senses danger in this “fight or flight” situation, blood vessels in the extremities narrow to send blood to vital organs. The most evident sign is white fingers that may turn blue from lack of oxygen and then red as blood vessels reopen.
Medical attention is important to distinguish between primary and secondary Raynaud’s. When secondary, Raynaud’s is part of an underlying, serious disease such as scleroderma or lupus, and it is often the first sign of these disorders. With this less common secondary form, severe cases can result in permanent blood vessel damage.
Treatments and coping strategies
While there is currently no cure for Raynaud’s, there are treatment options and lifestyle changes that may reduce the severity and frequency of attacks. Oral and topical medications are clinically proven to keep blood vessels open and may help heal digital ulcers.
In terms of lifestyle changes, the best coping strategy is to know your triggers and be prepared to avoid or protect yourself from cold or stressful situations. In addition, dress for the cold, avoid directly touching cold items, use quick warm-up techniques, and find products that work for you. Some patients have success with self-help relaxation techniques, and regular exercise helps increase blood supply to body tissues.
For more information and support, go to www.raynauds.org or call (800) 280-8055.