Raynaud’s Phenomenon

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 23rd, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If your fingers, toes, ears or nose become painful in freezing temperatures, you may be suffering from Raynaud’s [ray-NODES] phenomenon.

More than twenty-eight-million Americans suffer from this disorder of the small blood vessels, which constricts blood flow in response to cold temperatures. Symptoms include pain, numbness, stinging or throbbing when frigid temperatures cause blood vessels to spasm.

Fingers are usually the first clue in diagnosing this disorder. When exposed to cold temperatures such as holding an iced drink or immerged in cold water, fingers will turn blue or white within minutes. When warmed, they will turn distinctively red as opposed to developing a splotchy pattern. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease, women are more likely than men to suffer from this disorder.

While there is no apparent cause for the phenomenon, stressful situations or a medical condition such as lupus can trigger painful episodes.

Most doctors prescribe self-help measures to decrease the severity of an attack. Avoid prolonged exposure to the cold and be sure to wear gloves in freezing temperatures. A hat provides an extra layer in the cold as most of your body heat escapes through the head. Quit smoking, because nicotine causes the skin temperature to drop. And exercise regularly to keep the blood flowing and to promote overall good health.

In severe cases where Raynaud’s phenomenon is caused by another disorder, doctors may prescribe medication to ease the pain and get you back into the cold.