It’s normal to be chilly this time of year. In fact, rosy cheeks and red noses are just part of the season’s charm. But it’s not as fun when pain and discomfort are coupled with discoloration in your fingers, toes, and more. If this sounds like your experience come winter, you may be experiencing Raynaud’s Phenomenon — and you shouldn’t have cold feet when it comes to finding relief! We spoke to professionals about the condition and how you can manage it.
What is Raynaud’s Phenomenon?
Mayo Clinic explains that Raynaud’s (pronounced ray-NOSE) “causes some areas of your body — such as your fingers and toes — to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud’s Phenomenon, smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin become narrow, limiting blood flow to affected areas.” This source also notes that it is more common in people who live in colder temperatures, and it’s more likely to affect women than men. Daniel Boyer, MD says that this disparity is due in part to “the changes that occur during menopause.”
The phenomenon is fairly common, and though it can signal other conditions that are more serious, it is not life-threatening, and symptoms can usually be managed on one’s own.
What are the symptoms of Raynaud’s Phenomenon?
Dr. Boyer notes that the symptoms of Raynaud’s include:
- Pain and tingling in the fingers, hands, and feet
- Discoloration of the fingertips and toes (paleness, redness, even blue)
- Thickened skin in the fingers and toes
The National Health Society notes that areas like the lips, nose, and nipples may also be affected. These symptoms can make some activities more difficult, like washing dishes and being exposed to cold water, mentions Blanca Garcia, RDN. Symptoms can also flare up during times of high stress or anxiety, adds Nancy Mitchell, RN.
How can I manage my symptoms?
While symptoms are uncomfortable, there are several steps you can take to manage them.
Stay warm: Keep mittens on hand (pun intended) and socks in stock. Garcia adds, “If it’s snowing, avoid getting snow or moisture on your skin. Use protective gear around the ears, a face mask, and chemical hand warmers. If driving in cold weather, try to warm up your car before driving; if you have a seat warmer, turn it on. While indoors, protect yourself with socks and sweaters, and wear gloves when managing a refrigerator or freezer.”
Exercise: Breaking a sweat can help you warm up quickly, and the calming and physical benefits of exercise can help reduce symptoms long-term. “Regular, low-intensity exercises and a mindfulness routine may be beneficial to reduce symptoms both in the short term and future,” says Mitchell. “As we age, the body takes longer to recover from physical activity and related injuries. So it’s advisable to swap vigorous exercise for something less stressful on your system. Yoga, pilates, and slow-weighted movements are worth considering.” Garcia adds that regular exercise and a healthy diet can improve blood pressure, reducing the need for high blood pressure meds like beta-blockers, which may limit blood flow to extremities and make Raynaud’s worse. She notes to always consult your physician before adjusting your medicine’s dosages.
Incorporate more liquid, vitamin C, and magnesium into your diet: Being dehydrated can make symptoms worse, because when you are dehydrated, “blood vessels will constrict and cause more pain in your hands and feet,” says Dr. Boyer, who therefore recommends drinking about eight cups of water daily. You can also drink chamomile, ginger, or other kinds of herbal teas for hydration and pain management. He additionally notes that foods high in magnesium (like legumes, bananas, and dark, leafy greens) or vitamin C (like kiwi, red bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, cauliflower, and strawberries) may help reduce symptoms. Vitamin C can help blood flow, and magnesium deficiency can make blood vessels constrict more tightly, so adding more of both to your diet can help.
Limit things that could cause flare-ups: Because stress can trigger symptoms, Mitchell recommends “implementing a long-term stress management regimen.” Reducing stress can also improve your immune system and lead to increased overall well-being. In addition to reducing stress, limit alcohol and caffeine, says Dr. Boyer, which can “trigger blood vessel spasms” and make symptoms worse.
What does this mean for me?
Keep in mind that these suggestions are not a cure, and if your Raynaud’s symptoms are affecting your overall quality of life, you should seek medical attention. Garcia says that severe symptoms include infection or sores on your hands and feet, and that these could be a sign of tissue damage — so be vigilant and monitor your condition. Even if you aren’t having severe symptoms, it’s a good idea to get an official diagnosis from a medical professional. “There are a variety of medications your doctor may prescribe to help treat Raynaud’s Phenomenon and its symptoms,” says Dr. Boyer.
Good news: A study from the Saint Louis University Medical Center reports that 64 percent of middle aged women experienced remission of most symptoms over a period of seven years. But while your condition may not be lifelong, you deserve comfort. Bottom line: Stay comfy and cozy this season. If you needed another excuse to stay in and roast chestnuts over an open fire, here it is.