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
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
Prevention Is The Key
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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
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
- Tissue loss
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.
is no cure for Raynaud's phenomenon. Managing the condition requires avoiding known triggers, particularly
exposure to cold temperatures.
Avoid prolonged exposure to cold weather.
Avoid sudden temperature changes, such as leaving a warm house on a cold day.
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.
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 to join auto-immune_disorders
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: firstname.lastname@example.org