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Raynaud's Phenomenon: Cold Hands, Warm Heart
Recovering From Depression

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I will try to explain what the Raynaud's  Phenomenon is and how it has effected my life. Below, I have included  a photo of  a patient's hands with Raynaud's. This phenomenon may  be symptomatic of more  serious illnesses such as scleroderma and  lupus (auto immune diseases) in which  up to 90 percent of people  with the illness can have this complication.
 
I am one  of those 90 percent. I first noticed the color changes in my  hands  and feet, along with horrible itching and swelling, about 15 years  after I  was first diagnosed with the lupus anti-body.
 
At that time I lived in a very cold  region of the U.S. I loved long  walks through the woods on a beautiful snowy day. The  year was  1998. It was one of the coldest winters we had seen in many years.  I  was totally unaware of what Raynaud's was, and yes, scared when  I first noticed  many of the changes in my hands and feet. I soon  made a doctor's appointment and  was told I have Raynaud's Syndrome  and that it is a direct link to lupus. That  scared me even more.  I thought to myself, "Oh great, what else does lupus have  in store for me?".
 
My hands and feet hurt so bad I had to keep them  wrapped tightly  with cotton badges to hold-in body heat. The best  way I can explain how it feels  is frost bit or severe burns. I  looked pretty strange with all those cotton  badges, probably like  a mummy, but I still tried to return to work. Later I was  able  to graduate to only using gloves, sometimes several pairs at a time.  Even  though I was careful not to expose myself to cold temperatures  again, I still  had to wear the added protection for my condition to get better and  reduce the pain. The  healing process took several months, even  with medication.
 
My job  entailed an abundance of computer  data entry. Needless to say, each key stroke  was horribly painful.  The tips of my fingers turned reddish blue or white and  formed  blood blisters (even under the nails) which often broke open and  bled  whenever I tried to use my fingers to type. I can still see  the horror in some  of my customer's faces when they noticed my  hands and fingers.
 
My feet  and toes itched, endlessly,  everyday, swelled and turned colors of bright red,  white and bluish  red. I would sit for hours and just scratch my feet and hands. My feet were  so tender  it was almost impossible to walk on them without being in horrible  pain or breaking open the skin, leaving painful lesions.
 
I  was quickly  put on a medication and warned by my doctor not to  expose myself to any cold  temperatures. The medication I was put  on is call Adalt. Adalt is a prescribed  medication to control  high blood pressure but it also serves double duty in  controlling  the Raynaud's.
 
Prevention Is The Key
I  can report that the medication truly does help along with staying  clear of cold  temperatures and reducing stress. Stress is a trigger  that can often bring on a  flare-up at anytime. Staying clear of  cold temperatures also means many of the  everyday things in our  lives and not so easily avoidable. Air-conditioning, or  even something  as simple as pulling a frozen meal out of the freezer to prepare for dinner that  night can bring on a flare-up. You don't have to live  in cold climates to bring  this phenomenon on.
 
Smoking  is an absolute no, no as it compromises the  circulation system  which is already not working properly. If you need to handle  frozen  or cold food and drinks, be sure to wear at least one pair of gloves  before doing so.
 
I now live in a much warmer climate. However,  if I allow  stress to add up in my life or fail to take my medication,  as I have been known  to do, I still have flare-ups but not as  bad as before I knew how to take care  of myself. I avoid places  where I cannot control how low the air-conditioning is  set. This  causes a problem in Florida and most work places which is another  reason I am unable to return to my line of work, the office.
 
I  was told  by a doctor that I am fortunate not to be living up north  any longer because he  knew of a patient who ended up having amputations  because of the colder climate  she lived in. She had also moved  to Florida, but in her case, I guess it was too  late. Soon after  moving south she had to have the operations and lost several  fingers  and toes.
 
What is Raynaud's phenomenon?
Raynaud's  phenomenon is the short term interruption of blood flow  to the  extremities, such as fingers and toes. It is caused by a constriction  of  the blood vessels. Other areas of the body can be affected,  including the ears,  nose, tongue and even the nipples of breastfeeding  mothers. Raynaud's phenomenon  can last from just a few minutes  to many hours. Around five percent of the  population has the condition  to some degree. It is much more common in females,  with around  one in five women thought to experience Raynaud's phenomenon at  least once in their lifetime. Women under the age of 25 years  are more commonly  affected.

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Colour changes
Raynaud's  phenomenon is  characterized by changes in skin colour, from pink  to blue to white, as the  blood supply dwindles. When blood flow  returns, the skin turns from white to  blue, then to red and finally  back to the normal pink colour. Sometimes the  extremities only  exhibit two colour changes, from pink to white and back  again.

Raynaud's  phenomenon can be categorized into two groups:
Primary  Raynaud's  phenomenon in cold weather, the body prevents heat loss  by redirecting the blood  away from the extremities. In a person  with Raynaud's phenomenon, this reaction  is exaggerated. The blood  vessels constrict tightly, starving the tissues of  blood and causing  the characteristic blue or white colour change. However,  circulation  to the rest of the body is perfectly normal. It is unclear why the  blood vessels in a person with Raynaud's are abnormally  sensitive.
 
Secondary  Raynaud's phenomenon - this condition can be  symptomatic of various  underlying autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid  arthritis,  scleroderma and systemic lupus erythematosus. Around one in 20 people  with Raynaud's phenomenon have an autoimmune disease.
 
Other  causes
Other common causes of Raynaud's phenomenon  include:
Mechanical vibration - such as using a power tool for long periods. This is  known as 'industrial white finger'. It is  thought that the vibrations disrupt  the nerves.
Artherosclerosis  - characterized by a narrowing of the arteries,  caused by a build-up  of fatty plaques. Blood flow to the extremities may be  hampered  by this condition.
 
Complications of Raynaud's  phenomenon
In  most cases, Raynaud's phenomenon is harmless and  doesn't have  any lasting effects. However, in severe cases the constant loss  of  blood flow can permanently damage the tissue. Complications  include:
 
  • Impaired healing of cuts and abrasions
  • Increased  susceptibility to infection
  • Ulceration
  • Tissue  loss
  • Scaring
  • Gangrene

If  you or someone you know thinks  they may have this phenomenon,  seek medical advice. Since Raynaud's  phenomenon can  be a symptom of more serious underlying illnesses, including  scleroderma  and lupus, it is important to see your doctor for diagnosis. Usually,  treating  the primary illness should ease the symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon.  In severe cases, vasodilating medications (drugs that dilate the  blood vessels)  may be prescribed.

Prevention tips
There  is no cure for Raynaud's  phenomenon. Managing the condition requires avoiding  known triggers,  particularly exposure to cold temperatures.
Suggestions  include:

Avoid prolonged exposure to cold weather.

Avoid  sudden  temperature changes, such as leaving a warm house on a  cold day.
Keep the  extremities warm with gloves and woolen  socks.
Make sure your whole body is  kept warm, using several  layers of clothing to trap body heat.
Be mindful  that even  holding something cold, such as a can of drink, can trigger  symptoms.
Don't  smoke cigarettes or drink caffeinated beverages, since  nicotine  and caffeine constrict the arteries.
Exercise  regularly.

Where  to get help, your doctor.
 
The  word lupus still  brings fear to the faces of so many as I have seen, first hand.  But there is life after lupus and it's complications. I am living  proof. I was  first diagnosed in 1984 and 20 years later I am still  here to talk about it and  hopefully help others.
 
I advocate  awareness of all auto immune diseases. Communication and the sharing of information is the key. Being informed and receiving fellowship with  other suffers can help tremendously. If you have an autoimmune disorder, and, especially if you have been newly diagnoised, consider joining many of the great on-line support groups available. Support groups are essential in living and coping with any chronic illnesss.  I have provided a link to one of the many support groups I belong to. Consider joining us and open up a new world of understanding for you and your family and friends.

Click here to join auto-immune_disorders
Click to join auto-immune_disorders

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Communication is the key to understanding the day to day struggles of living with a chronic illness. Share your health story with others, submit to:  autoimmunecontact@yahoo.com