From the GP’s surgery, by Alexandra Phelan
The weather is still freezing and your fingers have turned white and they feel numb or painful. That’s just the cold, right? Or could it be Raynaud’s? Statistically the coldest month of the year in the UK, February is also Raynaud’s Awareness Month.
Known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, syndrome, disease or simply ‘Raynaud’s’, it is a relatively unknown condition that causes the small blood vessels in our extremities to temporarily spasm and block the flow of blood.
Sufferers usually experience Raynaud’s in their fingers, but can also get it in their toes, ears, nipples, lips and nose.
It can cause the affected extremities to go white and numb. As the blood flow returns, the skin will turn from blue to red and may be accompanied by pain or pins and needles.
The condition can be triggered by cold weather, stress, anxiety, hormonal changes and when using vibrating tools.
We still don’t know why people get Raynaud’s, but women and girls are more likely to suffer than men.
It is estimated that up to 10 million people in the UK could be affected. But many people don’t see their GP about it, so we don’t really know the true number.
Which type are you?
There are two types of Raynaud’s, primary and secondary.
Primary Raynaud’s is mostly mild and easily managed. There are usually no complications concerned with this form of the condition.
Secondary Raynaud’s is caused by an existing health condition, normally autoimmune diseases such as Lupus or Scleroderma. The secondary form of the condition needs monitoring as it can cause complications, such as ulcers, which can take a long time to heal.
Should you get checked out?
Most people with Raynaud’s have never seen a GP about it. They might not even know what the condition is called. However, if your fingers, toes or other extremities regularly go white, then it’s worth making an appointment with your doctor.
Your GP will talk through your history and work with you to determine if it is Raynaud’s and whether this is primary or secondary. There is no single test for Raynaud’s but your GP might undertake a few blood tests to look for potential secondary causes.
Even if your episodes of Raynaud’s are sporadic, it’s worth getting checked out so your GP can monitor you over time. In extremely rare cases, some people with Raynaud’s can go on to develop lupus or other autoimmune diseases.
Can Raynaud’s be cured?
Raynaud’s can’t be cured.
However, in most cases you can control your symptoms. In cold weather, wear gloves and appropriate footwear, try to avoid the cold where possible and use relaxation techniques when you are stressed or anxious.
Smoking can make Raynaud’s worse, as it directly affects your circulation. Your GP and pharmacist can help you to stop smoking.
If your symptoms are uncontrollable, your GP might prescribe nifedipine which works by relaxing the muscles of your heart and blood vessels.
Dr Alexandra Phelan is a working NHS GP and Online Doctor with Pharmacy2U. For more information go to www.Pharmacy2U.co.uk.