The winter months are generally known for snowstorms and bone-chilling temperatures. In addition to these seasonal hurdles, you might also notice that your hands and feet frequently become and cold and numb. What you may not realize is that this unexplained and recurring problem actually has a name – Raynaud’s Disease. If you frequently suffer from these aforementioned symptoms, you might stand to benefit from taking some preventative measures.
What is Raynaud’s Disease?
As it turns out, the frequent problems in your extremities can be traced back to a simple problem – a lack of blood flow to the hands and feet. Essentially, Raynaud’s causes the body to restrict the amount of blood it sends to these areas, causing your hands and/or feet to become numb and cold. The onset of Raynaud’s symptoms leaves an obvious imprint on the body, as the afflicted areas usually become noticeably pale and white. Some Raynaud’s attacks are mercifully brief, last only for 5 minutes or so. Other patients are not as lucky, reporting flare ups that get progressively worse over the span an hour or longer.
Raynaud’s shares two characteristics with many other frustrating diseases – doctors do not know what causes it, and the condition has no known cure. In spite of these obstacles, medical research has uncovered a number of behaviors and factors that seem to provoke Raynaud’s symptoms. If you frequently experience Raynaud’s attacks, one of the following triggers might explain why.
Cold Temperatures – We’ll start with the most obvious culprit. Some people can handle the wrath of the winter season with little difficulty. Conversely, other individuals must put on layer after layer of clothing just to stay warm. Not surprisingly, Raynaud’s sufferers often fall into the latter group.
This sensitivity to cold weather can cause the body to overreact. When the human body is exposed to frigid temperatures, it activates a built-in survival mechanism to keep itself alive. During this process, the brain seeks to keep the core of the body warm by reducing the amount of blood sent to the arms and feet. It accomplishes this task by narrowing crucial blood vessels in the extremities. In some situations, the body may resort to this mechanism too quickly, especially in those who struggle with winter weather. The result of such an overreaction is the appearance of Raynoud’s symptoms.
Stress – Stress has been linked to everything from early aging to high blood pressure, and you can add Raynaud’s to that list. Surprising at it may seem, bouts of stress can have the same impact as cold weather on the body, effectively constricting the blood vessels leading to the hands and feet.
Vitamin Deficiencies – You’ve probably heard about the importance of vitamins since childhood. And to be sure, what your mom said was true; the body needs a steady supply of vitamins and minerals to convert food into energy, produce new cells and repair damaged tissues and bones. In addition, the body’s muscular, nervous and circulatory systems cannot function at an optimal level without sufficient nutrients.
While it’s not the most alarming sign of poor nutrition, a lack of certain vitamins and minerals can eventually show up in your extremities. When it comes to Raynaud’s, the list of nutrients to be most concerned about include vitamin B12, niacin, magnesium and iron. The recommended daily allowance of these minerals and vitamins is shown below:
Iron: 8 to 18 grams; found in spinach, oysters, beans, kale and egg yolks
Vitamin B12: 2.4 micrograms; found in turkey, pork, eggs, venison, shrimp and salmon
Niacin: 14 to 18 milligrams (mg); found in egg yolks, beef, lamb, and all types of milk
Magnesium: 300 mg for women, 400 mg for men; found in bananas, black beans, whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal and spinach
Smoking – It is not at all difficult to think of reasons not to smoke. Smoking puts the body at a much greater risk of lung cancer, heart disease and chronic respiratory disease, all of which strike down millions of patients every year. To top it off, a regular smoking habit can narrow blood vessels in the body’s extremities, subsequently causing Raynaud’s symptoms.
Primary vs. Secondary Raynaud’s
As if the frequent coldness and numbness in your hands and feet weren’t troublesome enough, Raynaud’s can also signal that the presence of another, much more serious disease lurking inside the body. Known as Secondary Raynaud’s, this condition first surfaces around the age of 40, and tends to afflict women more often then men. The underlying conditions that can cause Secondary Raynaud’s are not to be taken lightly; they include Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren syndrome, scleroderma and various diseases of the arteries. Fortunately, most cases of Raynaud’s are classified as Primary Raynaud’s, meaning that they are not connected with any preexisting conditions.
Treatment and Prevention Options
The treatments and preventative strategies used against Raynaud’s are fairly obvious and straightforward. Raynaud’s patients who are vulnerable to cold environments should wear additional layers of clothing, thick socks, gloves and insulated boots when appropriate. Devices that might be especially helpful to Raynaud’s sufferers are hand and foot warmers, which can be inserted into both shoes and gloves. Each of these items is readily available at general and sporting goods stores. Since Raynaud’s can also be triggered by stepping into a cold car, many patients with this condition warm up their cars before driving.
If possible, stressful situations should be avoided. Since it is difficult to eliminate all sources of stress from daily life, you might consider performing certain stress-relieving activities . Some of the most effective methods for reducing stress include regular physical exercise, deep breathing, tai chi, meditation and yoga. Needless to say, preventing Raynaud’s is also one of many reasons to give up cigarettes.
If your Raynaud’s symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend the following prescription medications.
Calcium channel blockers – Those its name may suggest otherwise, calcium channel blockers work to reverse the damage done to the body by Raynaud’s. Once inside the body, these medications open up narrowed blood vessels in the hands and feet. Calcium channel blockers are usually ingested orally.
Alpha blockers – Like calcium channel blockers, alpha blockers seek to improve blood flow to the body’s extremities by freeing up congested vessels. To do this, alpha blockers attempt to reduce the effects of norepinephrine, the hormone responsible for narrowing blood vessels. Alpha blockers are usually taken in capsule or tablet form.
Vasodilators – Vasodilators are typically used to treat other ailments, but can still be an effective weapon against Raynaud’s. Vasodilator medications relax constricted blood vessels, allowing blood to flow freely into the hands and feet. A wide variety of medications qualify for the vasodilator label, including medicines for high blood pressure, depression and even erectile dysfunction. Vasodilators are often taken orally, but can also be applied directly to the skin.