Although winter is waning, lingering cold weather may cause people to suffer from a painful hand and foot disorder due to a condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon (Raynaud’s). Common symptoms of Raynaud’s include fingers that are hypersensitive to the cold and turn white upon cold exposure.
Raynaud’s is usually diagnosed in people younger than 40 years of age and occurs five times more frequently in women than in men. The disorder is sometimes referred to as “white fingers disease.”
Factors that can bring on Raynaud’s phenomenon include:
- Cold or hot environments
- Mental or emotional stress
- Certain occupations (for example, vibration from tools, like jackhammers)
- Smoking (nicotine is a stimulant that constricts the blood vessels)
- Exposure to some chemicals (such as vinyl chloride)
“Primary” Raynaud’s happens on its own with the cause unknown. There is also “secondary” Raynaud’s which is caused by injuries, the formation of blood clots, certain medicines or an underlying autoimmune disease.
An autoimmune disease is an immune system malfunction that leads to the body “attacking” itself, resulting in organ injury at the site of attack. Scleroderma, which causes hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues, is one autoimmune disease that often accompanies Raynaud’s.
There are other tell-tale symptoms that can indicate the presence of an autoimmune disease associated with Raynaud’s. If you suffer from Raynaud’s along with any of the following combination of symptoms, you should consult with a physician promptly.
- Skin that is becoming progressively “tighter.”
- Diagnoses of pulmonary fibrosis or pulmonary hypertension.
- Persistent heartburn known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Frequent diarrhea and unexplained weight loss.
- A history of unexplained kidney disease.
Fortunately, there are treatments available and new ones are being developed every year. Medications called calcium channel blockers (medication used in the treatment of high blood pressure or hypertension), along with aspirin, have helped decrease the painful effects of Raynaud’s. Newer medications for the treatment of pulmonary hypertension, such as sildenafil and bosentan, have also shown improvement in quality of life and may have a role in treatment of Raynaud’s as well.