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Cold hands in winter: do you have Raynaud’s disease?

Do your fingers, hands or toes turn pale over winter? You may have Raynaud’s disease. This is also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s syndrome.

Raynaud’s disease occurs when the small blood vessels in the upper or lower extremities overreact to cold temperatures or stress, leading to spasms or narrowing of the blood vessels. These can occur in your fingers, hands, toes or feet.

Raynaud's Disease

Signs and symptoms of Raynaud’s Disease

Here are the signs and symptoms:

1

Color Changes

Your fingers and toes may turn white or blue when exposed to cold temperatures or during periods of stress. This is caused by reduced blood flow to the area.
2

Numbness or Tingling

There may be a sensation of numbness or tingling in the affected fingers or toes.
3

Pain or Discomfort

Some individuals may experience pain or discomfort in the affected areas, particularly as blood flow returns and the skin warms up.
4

Skin Texture Changes

The skin in the affected areas may feel cold to the touch and become pale or bluish in colour. As blood flow returns, the skin may turn red and throb.
5

Sensitivity to Cold

People with Raynaud’s disease often have heightened sensitivity to cold temperatures, which can trigger an episode.
6

Changes in Nail Beds

In severe cases, the nail beds may thicken and nails may become brittle.
7

Ulcers or Gangrene

In rare cases of severe or long-standing Raynaud’s disease, ulcers or even tissue death (gangrene) may develop in the affected fingers or toes.

Causes of Raynaud’s Disease

While the exact cause of primary Raynaud’s disease is not fully understood, it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and physiological factors. Here are some potential causes:

1

Genetics

There is evidence to suggest that primary Raynaud’s disease may have a genetic component, as it often runs in families. Certain genetic variations may predispose individuals to an exaggerated response of the blood vessels to cold or stress.
2

Abnormalities in Blood Vessel Function

Dysfunction in the inner lining of the blood vessels may contribute to the abnormal vascular response seen in Raynaud’s disease. This dysfunction can result in exaggerated narrowing of blood vessels in response to triggers like cold temperatures or stress.
3

Autonomic Nervous System Dysfunction

The autonomic nervous system helps regulate blood flow and other involuntary bodily functions. Dysfunction in this system may lead to abnormal blood vessel responses, contributing to Raynaud’s disease.
4

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, may influence blood vessel function and contribute to Raynaud’s disease in susceptible individuals.

5

Environmental Triggers

Cold temperatures are a common trigger for Raynaud’s attacks. Exposure to cold can cause the blood vessels in the extremities to constrict, leading to reduced blood flow and symptoms of Raynaud’s.

While primary Raynaud’s disease typically occurs without an underlying medical condition, secondary Raynaud’s disease may be associated with certain underlying health conditions, including autoimmune diseases. These include diseases such as lupus or scleroderma), vascular diseases, connective tissue disorders, or certain medications.

Raynaud's Disease

Advice from a Hand Therapist on managing Raynaud’s Disease

If you have Raynaud’s disease, you are at greater risk of developing frostbite or sores on the tips of your fingers in winter. Here are some tips from a Hand Physiotherapist on how to keep your hands warm and still enjoy winter activities:

  • Wear Gloves and Mittens: gloves and mittens can keep your hands and fingers warm. These can be worn outdoors and at night. There are fingerless and fingertip options.
  • Hand Warmers: you can purchase hand warmers from discount stores or sporting goods stores. Keep them in your bag when you go outdoors so you’ll have one ready to use when needed.
  • Wear Warm Clothing: keep your body warm by wearing layers, a scarf or beanie.
  • Exercise: Exercise will improve circulation and blood flow to your fingers and hands. Go for a short walk or run, even if it’s 30 minutes. If you’re working at home, stand up and stretch every couple of hours.
  • Reduce Smoking: smoking narrows the blood vessels, so limit smoking when possible.
  • Manage Stress: blood vessels naturally narrow in response to stress. To manage stress with Raynaud’s Disease, consider meditation, regular exercise, or breathing exercises.

If you have Raynaud’s disease and want to make an appointment with our Hand Therapist, call one of our Hand Therapy clinics in Sydney today.

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