Raynaud’s phenomenon is extremely common, with 1 in 6 people affected, and up to 10 million people thought to be actively suffering in the UK. Characterised by the over response to a change in condition, seen in the colour change in the extremities. Commonly the colour change, of white to blue to red, is seen in the fingers and toes, but it can be seen in other areas such as the nose, ears and nipples. This over active response causes pain and discomfort and can make daily life much more of a struggle, due to a lack of dexterity.
Raynaud’s is diagnosed as one of two forms, primary Raynaud’s and secondary Raynaud’s, the latter being more complex. Primary Raynaud’s is manageable and is the milder form caused by disruption of the nervous systems control of blood vessels, leading to arterial spasms and blood flow deficiencies. Secondary Raynaud’s is often linked and associated with autoimmune disorders, such as Scleroderma and Lupus. This form can have complications such as ulceration of the fingers and toes, which can be excruciating, and any infection can be extremely serious. A sufferer from secondary Raynaud’s, Miss Gardner, described an attack as “extremely painful, and for me it feels like my hands are on fire. The length of duration can vary extremely, from 5 minutes to an hour, but any duration is debilitating and very uncomfortable.” Why this syndrome occurs is still relatively unknown. However, triggers have been identified, including changes in; temperature, emotions, stress and hormones. The latter three illustrating its higher commonality in young women and girls.
Diagnosis of Raynaud’s is relatively simple. A blood test is usually carried out by your GP, with further checks for autoimmune disorders needed to distinguish if you suffer from primary or secondary Raynaud’s. A water test may also be carried out, where the hands and/or feet are immersed in water of around 15 degrees Celsius and then the ability of the body to respond to the cold is observed.
In the UK, there is only one licensed drug for treatment, Nifedipine. This acts as a calcium channel blocker, dilating the smaller blood vessels and thus preventing the painful attacks. Other treatment methods act in similar ways, however they are not licensed for prescription in the UK. Lifestyle changes are suggested, such as relaxation techniques and generally keeping warm!
For more information, visit Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK at: https://www.sruk.co.uk