"Raynaud's" refers to a phenomenon that causes certain body parts--especially fingers and toes--to feel cold and numb because of environmental or emotional factors, like cold temperatures or stress. Doctors aren't completely sure what causes Raynaud's Disease, but they do agree that the smaller arteries that bring blood to your skin seem to become so narrow that blood flow is severely limited.
The most common trigger for Raynaud's attacks seems to be exposure to cold temperatures, whether a person dips their fingers into cold water, grabs something out of a freezer, or goes outside without a pair of gloves. Doctors believe that the blood vessels in the hands and feet overreact to those cold temperatures, and that's what causes them to constrict. Some people also experience Raynaud's attacks because of an emotional outburst or panic attack.
During a Raynaud's attack, your fingers, toes, nose, lips, ears, or even nipples may turn white. After a few minutes, the affected areas usually turn blue, which is when the cold and numb sensations set in. Around this time, people who suffer from Raynaud's start to focus on getting warm. As your blood circulation improves and you start to warm back up, those same areas might turn red and begin to tingle, throb, or swell. The proper blood circulation may take 15 minutes to kick in even after the initial warming up process.
The people who are more likely to have Raynaud's disease include women and people who live in cold climates. There are two main types of Raynaud's disease: primary and secondary. Primary Raynaud's is what most people refer to as Raynaud's disease. It's the most common form of Raynaud's, but it isn't associated with any prior medical condition. It can be so mild that people who experience primary Raynaud's never seek medical attention since it often resolves itself.
Secondary Raynaud's, on the other hand, is often referred to as Raynaud's phenomenon. An underlying medical condition causes this form of Raynaud's, and even though it isn't as common as primary Raynaud's, it's usually more serious. Some of the underlying conditions that cause secondary Raynaud's include connective tissue diseases, diseases of the arteries, carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive action/vibration, smoking, injuries to the hand or feet, and certain medications. Secondary Raynaud's symptoms don't usually appear until around or after age 40, which is a lot later than symptoms of primary Raynaud's.
Treatment options for Raynaud's depend on the type of Raynaud's someone suffers from and the underlying cause of the disease or phenomenon. Some people's cases are pretty severe, but most people aren't completely disabled by the condition. Even though most people don't experience debilitating symptoms from Raynaud's, the symptoms they DO experience can affect their quality of life and become a major inconvenience, especially around the holiday season.
Severe cases of Raynaud's disease involving an extended time when blood flow to your fingers or toes is reduced may cause tissue damage over time. In the most extreme situations, blocked arteries can lead to nearly untreatable skin ulcers and dead tissue, which may need to be completely removed. These severe cases may be treated with surgery or other invasive procedures, but milder cases are usually treated with medications like vasodilators, calcium channel blockers, and alpha-blockers.
Opinions from doctors differ on whether compression socks are an effective way to treat symptoms of Reynaud's disease. Some doctors say that, since Raynaud's is caused by already restricted arteries, further compression of the blood vessels should be avoided. Others insist that the way compression socks improve blood circulation between the wearer's legs and heart can only offer relief since improper blood circulation is what causes symptoms of Raynaud's in the first place. Realistically, there is no cut and dry answer, just like there's no cut and dry cause for Raynaud's in the first place. The most effective treatment for Raynaud's is going to vary from person to person, so if you suffer from Raynaud's and aren't sure whether compression socks would be a good choice for you, consult your primary care physician before trying a pair.
A lot of people who suffer from Raynaud's disease have found a lot of relief from compression socks, so we're going to highlight the benefits they can offer people who have this condition. The most important thing that compression socks can offer people with Raynaud's disease is better blood circulation. Compression socks apply gentle pressure to the wearer's feet and ankles. This pressure allows blood to flow more freely toward the heart, which reduces swelling, achiness, and fatigue in the legs. Numbness and coldness are often caused by a lack of blood flow to any area of the body, so wearing compression socks, which specifically promote and support healthy blood flow in the body, could prevent numbness from occurring in the first place well as help exposed extremities warm up quickly.
Remember that it's always safer to discuss compression socks with your doctor before trying them for yourself. If you have Raynaud's disease and want some other tips to avoid Raynaud's attacks, here are some things you can do to prevent episodes:
Bundle up when you go outside. As the holiday season approaches, it's important to remember that there's no such thing as too many layers. This principle is especially applicable for people who live in a particularly cold climate. Consider wearing a few different pairs of gloves/socks at a time, and choose jackets that feature a snug cuff to fit over those gloves.
Warm up your car before your commute in the morning. As often as possible, especially in the winter, take a few extra minutes in the morning to start up your car so that you're not subjecting yourself to trying to turn a freezing cold steering wheel. There's nothing worse than experiencing a Raynaud's attack on your way into the office.
Take precautions indoors. Use gloves and other hand coverings to take things out of the freezer and refrigerator to avoid triggering an episode when you least expect it.