Understanding Raynaud’s

16 February 2021

Can you imagine not being able to do up the buttons on your jacket? Or turn your key in the door, or unzip your purse? All because your fingers are numb, tingling or painful? Everyday tasks like this can be a challenge if you have Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Around one in six people in the UK are thought to have Raynaud's. Here I explain what Raynaud’s is, what causes it, and what it’s like to live with and manage the condition.

an image of a person's folded hands, wearing colourful gloves

What is Raynaud’s?

Raynaud’s (Ray-nose) is where the small blood vessels in extremities, such as hands and feet, are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, the cold and sometimes stress. This means people with Raynaud’s may experience their fingers and toes turning white, then blue, then red as part of a reaction to the change in temperature, as well as numbness and pain. This may be seasonal, such as during cold weather, or affect you all year round.

Raynaud’s can be referred to as Raynaud’s syndrome, Raynaud’s disease, or primary/secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Raynaud's disease on palm  Raynaud's disease on the palm

Photos: Fiona Lyon

What are the symptoms of Raynaud’s?

A Raynaud's attack can be a very uncomfortable process.

Raynaud's symptoms are:

  • cold fingers and toes, or other extremities
  • colour changes in your skin due to changes in temperature or stress
  • colour changes in the affected areas, from white, to blue/purple and then red
  • numbness, tingling or pain
  • stinging or throbbing pain upon warming or stress relief

If you have any of the symptoms, it could be Raynaud’s. You can take SRUK’s simple online test to learn more. You should also make an appointment with your GP.

Jane Potter, 49, who has secondary Raynaud’s said: “I was struggling with playing football because my hands would go blue after playing. I went to my local GP and they sent me to do tests and they came back as positive for Raynaud’s.

“I try hard not to let it impact my life and I maintain a very positive outlook. If you let it get you down you, it can take over your life.”

Who does it affect?

Primary Raynaud’s is a relatively common condition, affecting up to 10 million people within the UK. Eight million of these are women. People of any age can get Raynaud’s but it typically presents in your 20s and 30s.

What’s the difference between primary and secondary Raynaud’s?

In secondary Raynaud’s there is often an associated medical condition causing the problem, although Raynaud’s may be the first symptom. The 300,000 people who have secondary Raynaud’s can have severe attacks and damage to the skin of the extremities, including ulcers or sores. They are more likely to have symptoms throughout the year. People with Secondary Raynaud’s may develop other features of an underlying autoimmune condition such as systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), lupus or myositis (muscle inflammation).

For Karen Raney-Marr, living with Raynaud’s means wrestling with chill blains (small itchy painful lumps), cracked hands and swelling inflicted by hot days and cold days alike.

She said: “It can be a really hot day and a small breeze can start an attack. I generally feel way too cold and I can’t wear summer clothes. On holiday, I use a Lilo in the pool so I can keep out of the water and avoid attacks.”

Managing the symptoms of Raynaud’s

There’s currently no cure for Raynaud’s, however a few simple lifestyle changes can help manage and lessen symptoms. If this doesn't help then visit your GP and ask about other treatments and medications. Practical tips include making sure that you wear thick gloves and many thin layers in cold weather. If you are affected, there are lots of ways you can manage the condition.

Stress can also make symptoms worse so managing it through practices like mindfulness can help. If you smoke, SRUK also recommends that you seek help in quitting as this can also trigger symptoms.

Eating a balanced and healthy diet can also help you manage the condition.

Karen has found that wearing gloves constantly minimises some of the symptoms, and she has a heated steering wheel for those extra cold days.

Comparatively, Katy Tate finds the pressure of gloves on her hands to be too painful.

She said: “I maintain my physical and mental health to manage it and take a very holistic approach. I try to treat it as just an annoyance and just get on with things.”

If you notice a change in your symptoms, are worried, or have any other health condition, you should contact your GP.

Scleroderma & Raynaud's UK (SRUK) is the only UK Charity dedicated to improving the lives of people with scleroderma and Raynaud's phenomenon.

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