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Don't let Raynaud's syndrome leave you out in the cold
Omar P. Haqqani, MD
Midland Daily News
January 1, 2017
With no near end in sight to the harsh winter weather, it’s important to understand how the cold temperatures can contribute to the escalation of vascular disease. Case in point: Raynaud’s syndrome – a condition in which its effects are worsened by the winter weather.
Raynaud’s syndrome causes the body’s smaller arteries to constrict due to spasms, limiting blood flow to certain areas of the body – most commonly the fingers, ears, toes, nipples, knees, and nose
When these spasms occur, there is often numbness or pain that occurs, and the afflicted areas turn white, blue and finally red once blood flow returns. Most episodes brought on by Raynaud’s syndrome typically last a few minutes, but have the potential to last up to several hours.
Not only that, but as time passes and Raynaud’s progresses, the arteries can thicken, continuing to limit arterial blood flow even more as a result.
There are two variations of Raynaud’s syndrome: Primary, which isn’t related to an underlying condition, and secondary, which is. Secondary Raynaud’s appears later in life, usually after the age of 40, and tends to be more serious.
Though there isn’t an exact cause for the development of secondary Raynaud’s, there are a multitude of risk factors that are associated with its development.
Some risk factors are associated with the development or family history of autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Sjogren’s syndrome; arterial diseases, such as Buerger’s disease, atherosclerosis or primary pulmonary hypertension; or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Those who smoke are at a greater risk for developing Raynaud’s syndrome, as well as those who take certain medications, such as beta-blockers, migraine medication, ADHD drugs, chemotherapy agents or over-the-counter cold medications, which can narrow the blood vessels.
Injuries to the hands or feet, such as fracture, surgery, or frostbite, as well as repetitive actions or vibrations to particular areas of the body, are also contributing factors. Women are also more likely to develop Raynaud’s syndrome than men.
Diagnosis of Raynaud’s syndrome is done through a physical examination of the patient after reporting symptoms of cold fingers and toes, skin color changes, swollen areas when re-warmed, and ulcerations of finger or toe pads. However, if you begin to develop a sore or infection in any of the affected areas, see a physician immediately.
Additionally, while there is no blood or diagnostic test to diagnose Raynaud’s syndrome, in some cases, symptoms typically found in Raynaud’s syndrome can also be reflective of an autoimmune or connective tissue disorder.
A physician may order a blood test, such as an antinuclear antibodies test or an erythrocyte sedimentation rate, to rule out this possibility.
While the effects of Raynaud’s Syndrome may seem daunting, the condition can be treated through medication, minimally invasive surgery, or a combination of the two. When treatment is undergone, the goal is to reduce the number and severity of attacks, prevent tissue damage, and treat underlying conditions of the disease.
A physician may prescribe a calcium channel blocker – a medication that helps relax and open the small blood vessels of the hands and feet. This option helps to decrease the number and severity of attacks, and is typically used as the first line of treatment for Raynaud’s sufferers.
Other medications can aid symptoms brought on by Raynaud’s syndrome. Alpha-blockers counteract a hormone in the body that causes constriction or narrowing of the blood vessels, while vasodilators relax the blood vessels, as well as help to heal skin and ulcers found on fingers and toes.
Sympathectomy surgery, a minimally invasive procedure, is also a viable option. Through this procedure, small incisions are made in the affected hands or feet, and the tiny nerves surrounding the blood vessels are stripped away, reducing the frequency and duration of attacks.
Botox or anesthetic injections may also be used to decrease the rate or length of attacks. In this procedure, injections of these substances are made directly into the nerves of affected hands and feet.
Living in Michigan, we’re no strangers to how abrasive and harsh the cold weather can be, with its effects being undeniable during the winter months. However, with a little planning, research and a few extra layers, you too can put the chill on the effects of Raynaud’s syndrome this winter.
To learn more about Raynaud’s syndrome, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org for more information.
Dr. Omar P. Haqqani is the chief of vascular and endovascular surgery at Vascular Health Clinics in Midland.
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