Try these seven ways to prevent Raynaud’s syndrome attacks.
By Brenda Goodman
If you’re among the estimated 20 to 30 percent of people with inflammatory arthritis who also have Raynaud’s syndrome, or Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition that affects blood flow to the extremities and causes pain, numbness and tingling, the fall and spring – months when temperatures are constantly shifting – can be especially challenging.
A sudden chill may cause blood vessels to spasm, shutting off circulation and turning affected parts a ghostly shade of white or blue. Fingers, toes, hands, feet, lips and the tongue are most commonly afflicted, and they may become painfully cold, tingling or numb.
Thankfully, there are ways to prevent these attacks. Here are some strategies that will help keep you warm through changing seasons.
1) Keep your core toasty. When temperatures drop, the body shifts blood away from the hands and feet toward the heart, lungs and brain. In Raynaud’s syndrome, this response is thought to be exaggerated – making the frozen foods section of the grocery store feel like as much of a threat as a North Dakota blizzard. Wearing hats and vests, and layering long underwear under clothing will keep your vital organs warm and can help defuse this trigger.
2) Watch out for the tasty freeze. “Just like some people get brain freeze with a cold drink or cold food, you can get Raynaud’s when eating something cold or even when holding a cold drink,” says Janet Pope, MD, head of the division of rheumatology at the University of Western Ontario, in Canada. “Put the drink in a thermos so it is not as cold on the outside or let it warm up a bit to decrease the chances of an attack.” Dr. Pope also advises using gloves or an oven mitt to get food out of the freezer.
3) Keep dry. Sweat cooling on the skin can trigger an attack. Wear socks, gloves, long underwear and exercise gear made from fabrics like SmartWool or ClimaLite that wick moisture away from the skin. And make sure that hair and skin are dry before exiting the gym.
4) Give working hands a break. Typing, playing the piano, or even holding a piece of equipment that vibrates, such as a lawnmower, may bring on an attack. If you find that keyboards are unkind, help your hands by keeping your office warm and taking frequent breaks to rub hands together.
5) Reduce stress. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that anxiety and stress – without any drop in temperature – were powerful enough to provoke about one-third of the attacks experienced by participants. Meditation, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy, Tai Chi and aerobic exercise are all great ways to turn down tension and start the thaw.
6) Stop smoking. Smoking narrows blood vessels and makes Raynaud’s worse.
7) Try medication. In most cases, Raynaud’s is more annoying than dangerous. But for some, severe or frequent attacks can hamper daily activities. That’s when it may be time to turn to a prescription. Calcium channel blockers, estrogen therapy (for women), topical nitroglycerine and even phosphodiesterase inhibitors, which are used to improve blood flow in erectile dysfunction, may be able to help. Several recent studies have also shown that Botox injections in the hands may relieve the condition when it becomes serious enough to cause ulcers or gangrene.
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Please share your ideas and tips for staying warm this winter.