Raynaud’s is a condition that causes your hands and feet to overreact to cold. They may become painful and numb, and they can change colours, becoming very pale and then blue. This condition also is called Raynaud’s phenomenon. There are two kinds of Raynaud’s. Primary Raynaud’s, also known as Raynaud’s disease, happens by itself and is the most common form. Secondary Raynaud’s, also called Raynaud’s syndrome, happens as part of another disease.
In Raynaud’s, the small vessels that bring blood to the skin either become narrow, or constrict for a short period of time. This limits blood flow to the hands and feet and sometimes to the nose or ears. Your hands and feet feel cold and numb and then turn very pale. As blood flow returns, your fingers and toes may turn red, and begin to throb and hurt. Raynaud’s can be painful and annoying, but it usually does not cause serious problems.
You can take simple steps to protect your hands and feet from the cold. If you have a bad case of Raynaud’s and you cannot keep your hands and feet warm enough, your doctor may prescribe medicine.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How can you care for yourself at home?
To prevent Raynaud’s episodes or ease symptoms
- Run warm water over your hands or feet to increase blood flow. Use another part of your body, such as your forearm, to make sure the water is not too hot; you could burn your hands or feet and not feel it because they are numb.
- Swing your arms in a circle at the sides of your body (“windmilling”) to increase blood flow.
- If your doctor prescribes medicine to help Raynaud’s, take it exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
- If another condition causes your Raynaud’s, make sure to follow your treatment for that condition.
- Wear mittens or gloves when it is cold outside. Mittens are warmer than gloves because they keep your fingers together. Gloves underneath mittens will keep your hands warmer than gloves alone. You also can use pot holders or oven mitts when getting something from the freezer or refrigerator.
- You can slip chemical hand warmers into your mittens or gloves when you do outside activities.
- Do not smoke. Nicotine makes blood vessels constrict, which can bring on an attack. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
- Avoid caffeine and cold medicines that have pseudoephedrine. They make blood vessels constrict. Beta-blocker medicines, often used to treat high blood pressure, also can make Raynaud’s worse.
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, which can lower the amount of blood moving through the blood vessels. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
- Try to stay calm when you are under stress. Anxiety can make your blood vessels constrict and lead to a Raynaud’s attack.
To keep your whole body warm
- Eat a hot meal and drink a warm liquid before going outside. They may help raise your body temperature.
- Wear layers of warm clothing. The inner layer should be made of a material such as polypropylene that pulls moisture away from your body.
- Wear a hat.
- Do not wear clothing that is too tight. It can decrease or cut off blood flow.
- Try to stay dry. Choose waterproof, breathable jackets and boots. Being wet makes you more likely to become chilled.
When should you call for help?
Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have severe pain in your hands or feet.
- Normal colour does not return to your hands or feet.
- Your hands or feet do not warm up even after home care.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.