The Icy Touch of Raynaud's
Most people don't think too much about keeping their hands warm, particularly not in the heat of the summer. But folks like me who have Raynaud's Syndrome learn to avoid frigid digits whenever they can. Because what happens when my hands get cold, as my grossed-out kids can attest, isn't pretty. And it can happen getting in the pool or the ocean if the water is chilly, holding an ice-cold martini, or retrieving frozen food from the freezer.
In Raynaud's (sometimes spelled Reynaud's, though the condition is named for the French physician Maurice Raynaud, who identified it in 1862) Syndrome (sometimes called Disease or Phenomenon), capillaries in the hands (and sometimes the feet) constrict dramatically in response to cold temperature. The resulting withdrawal of blood from the skin's surface turns the fingers a waxy yellow; my fingers also grow numb. (Some people's skin turns blue.)
The only way I know to get my hands back to normal is to run them under warm water for a few minutes. The color gradually comes back, in splotchy red patches.
As chronic conditions go, Raynaud's isn't the worst in the world. But I really can't use my fingers for anything at all when they're in that pallid state. And I find myself avoiding situations that might make them cold.
Luckily, most cases of Raynaud's aren't related to any underlying disease, and, apart from the inconvenience, the condition is generally harmless. In some cases, though, the syndrome is associated with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, says cigarette smoking, using vibrating heavy equipment, and even stress can trigger episodes of Raynaud's. The condition affects far more women than men, though nobody quite knows how many people have it because lots of cases likely go unreported. The Raynaud's Association -- whose tagline reads "Some people are too cool for their own good" -- is trying to raise awareness of the disorder and provide support for the afflicted.
Goldberg recommends that people experiencing Raynaud's for the first time see a physician to rule out underlying disease. Those with more persistent cases may be prescribed medications such as betablockers that dilate small blood vessels.
As you might expect, products are available to help ward off Raynaud's. But I can't imagine going around with gloves or wristbands on all the time. Plus, in its own creepy way, Raynaud's is a bit of a conversation starter; I always feel an immediate kinship when I meet a fellow coldfinger.
Anyone else out there have Raynaud's? How does it affect your life?
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