Reynaud’s disease typically affects the blood flow to the fingers and toes, but can also affect the other parts of the body such as the ears, nose and nipples. The condition can be classified as either primary Reynaud’s (which occurs on its own for no apparent reason), or secondary Reynaud’s which is linked to another condition. The toes normally turn white as a result of a lack of blood, then blue as a result of reduced oxygen. When the blood flow returns, the toes will turn red again, usually with a throbbing or tingling sensation.
What causes Raynaud’s disease?
It’s not fully understood what causes Raynaud’s disease, though it is known that blood vessels in the hands and feet become constricted, with a consequent reduction in blood flow. The trigger appears to be cold, stress or anxiety. In primary Raynaud’s, there is no underlying condition that causes the disease, but secondary Raynaud’s is linked to existing conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or Lupus (SLE), and smoking. Certain medications, such as beta blockers (which are used in the treatment of high blood pressure), anti migraine medication and even the contraceptive pill are also known to be connected to secondary Reynaud’s, as are treatments such as chemotherapy and cold remedies. Illegal drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines can also trigger symptoms.
Keeping warm is not only a treatment (see below), but also a preventative measure. Using gloves when handling cold items (e.g. when taking food from the freezer) can also be helpful. Improving circulation through exercise can help, and smokers should stop smoking. Those who have problems controlling their stress levels should seek professional help.
The first rule is to try and keep the whole body warm, though other simple measures such as wiggling the toes and running warm (not hot) water over the affected area can help. However, in some cases, medications such as calcium channel blockers that open the blood vessels (thus improving circulation) may be used. Relaxation techniques may also help to alleviate the symptoms of Raynaud’s by relieving stress, and – in very severe cases - surgery may be an option.