Login | February 24, 2020

Raynaud’s Symdrome

Pete’s World

Published: February 10, 2020

I can’t recall exactly the first time I started experiencing those unusual numb spells in my fingers, but it most definitely occurred when I was cycling really hard - and in the summer no less. In cold weather the issue was even more pronounced.
That was decades ago and I just kind of brushed it off for a while, thinking that maybe it was caused by one of two things: My body’s physiological response to hard cardiovascular exercise–– blood being shunted to the working muscles of my legs and away from those body parts that reside at my outer extremities––or the compressive forces on the nerves in my wrists from gripping the handle bars. Made perfect sense, right?
But then, over the ensuing years those same symptoms began occurring in my toes, and this strange phenomena grew to include several digits becoming somewhat white and waxy colored.
Well, those unusual symptoms came to be a normal occurrence during many of my outdoor exercise endeavors––even when I hiked or ran at a fairly aggressive pace.
It wasn’t until I started having conversations about this with my sister, a sports orthopedic physician, that we were able to put a name to this year’s long malady––Primary Raynaud’s Syndrome.
In it’s online my.clevelandclinic.org health library, the Cleveland Clinic describes Raynaud’s this way:
“Raynaud’s phenomenon (also called Raynaud’s disease or Raynaud’s syndrome) is a disorder that affects the blood vessels in the fingers and toes. Blood vessels in the nose, lips or ear lobes may also be affected. This disorder is characterized by episodic spasms, called vasospastic attacks, which cause the small blood vessels in the fingers and toes to constrict (tighten or close) in response to temperature extremes, certain occupational exposures, or excitement. With Raynaud’s, the skin on the affected areas becomes white or bluish and cold or numb.
Raynaud’s phenomenon can occur on its own (primary Raynaud’s phenomenon), or it can be related to another medical condition (secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon).”
Indeed, seems that Raynaud’s not only triggered by cold weather, but it’s also brought about by environmental stresses like diet, sleep, stress or a combination of the three. In my case it’s likely that the stress/excitement of hard exercise initiates the primary Raynaud’s symptoms I experience.
Now I’m going to be honest, I’ve never taken any of the several diagnostic lab tests to confirm primary Raynaud’s, but I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts, based on the consultations with my sister, that that’s exactly what’s been going on all these years.
Okay, so you might not have a sister who’s a doc, but know that if you’re experiencing some of the symptoms I’ve been describing, it’s pretty easy for a GP to diagnose Primary Raynaud’s. Secondary Raynaud’s is a trickier and much more serious diagnosis because the underlying causes can be difficult to identify.
So how does one delineate between primary and secondary Raynaud’s?
Individuals with primary Raynaud’s––the milder form of Raynaud’s––have Raynaud’s in the absence of any other related vascular diseases. They’re typically healthy individuals who are able to have some control over their Raynaud’s with lifestyle changes/adaptations. People with the primary Raynaud’s can be described as having “finicky” capillaries in their extremities.
Secondary Raynaud’s appears in individuals whose Raynaud’s results from another connective tissue disease. This form of Raynaud’s occurs in about 85 to 95 percent of patients with scleroderma (a chronic hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues), and in about 30 percent of people with systemic lupus. It also occurs in individuals who have Sjögren’s syndrome, dermatomyositis and polymyositis.
It’s not uncommon for individuals with the secondary Raynaud’s to suffer from serious problems like skin ulcers - and in extreme cases they’re susceptible to Gangrene in their extremities.
So the big question is…when should you contact a doctor if you suspect Raynaud’s Syndrome? Most physicians agree that there’s several tell-tale signs that dictate when one should seek medical consultation:
• Having severe pain in your hands or feet
• Normal color does not return to your hands/feet
• Your hands/feet do not warm up even after home care
• Symptoms occur on only one side of your body
• There is an increasing frequency and severity of attacks despite prevention techniques
Primary Raynaud’s can be quite harmless, but secondary Raynaud’s can be quite dangerous.
If you’re not sure, take that next step…talk to a doc.