After being outside for a while in cold temperatures, most of us may experience a feeling of coldness, burning and tingling in our fingers that usually resolves once we warm up or put on gloves. But, for some, the pain can be excruciating, their fingers turn white, and the return to normal feeling and circulation can take much longer than usual. Such a severe reaction to cold in the hands is called Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a type of vasospastic condition in which the small arteries in the fingers abnormally constrict or tighten due to exposure to cold, which limits blood flow. When this happens, a typical sequence can occur: the affected fingers turn white, followed by a bluish color as deoxygenated blood pools in the fingers, and finally a red flush appears called reactive hyperemia as normal, oxygenated blood flow returns. Any, or all, of these phases can produce pain, a dull aching feeling, and paresthesias or “pins and needles” feeling as the fingers warm up again. According to MedicineNet.com, Raynaud’s phenomenon most frequently affects women in their second, third or fourth decade.
In addition to cold, other triggers for Raynaud’s phenomenon can include stress and neurologic conditions that create overactive vasoconstriction in the digits. It is also associated with inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and collagen-vascular disease, known as scleroderma. Diagnosis is usually made in collaboration with a rheumatologist, vascular specialist, and/or neurologist. Treatment can include the use of medications to increase blood flow to the extremities and activity modification.
Fortunately, there are many ways to help prevent or reduce the severity of Raynaud’s attacks during the winter season, including:
For those experiencing Raynaud’s symptoms, MMI has a comprehensive team of physicians including a hand specialist and rheumatologists who can help develop the right plan of care to alleviate your symptoms and lessen winter’s “icy grip” on your hands.
Activity modifications adapted from Melvin, JL, MS, OTR, FAOTA. Scleroderma (Systemic Sclerosis): Treatment of the Hand. In: Skirven (et. al). Rehabilitation of the Hand and Upper Extremity, 6th Edition. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby, 2011:1438.