Health: Out on a limb: the pain of Raynaud's

CURIOUSER and curiouser, I remember thinking, as I sat outside a pub in Dorset on a gloriously hot August afternoon, watching my left hand turn first white, then blue, then a livid shade of purple.

Over the next few weeks, I grew accustomed to these abrupt attacks of numbness, which were invariably followed by dramatic displays of colour. But it was not until six months later that I discovered what lay behind them; I had Raynaud's, a painful and potentially debilitating circulatory disorder.

People with Raynaud's are highly sensitive to temperature changes, which cause spasms in the small arteries of the fingers and toes, cutting off blood supply to the extremities. Opening a fridge door, or picking up a cold drink - even in summertime - can be a sufficient trigger. With the tissues starved of blood, ulcers develop which, in severe cases, can lead to gangrene and amputation.

Early diagnosis and treatment are important, particularly for patients for whom Raynaud's is secondary to a rarer and more serious disease, scleroderma. Yet there is still a high degree of ignorance, according to the Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association, which has just launched a national campaign to raise awareness.

The campaign, accompanied by striking black and white posters featuring a pair of hands with icicles hanging off them, is partly aimed at determining the prevalence of Raynaud's. Some estimate that it affects about 10 million people - nine-tenths of them women - in Britain, albeit in a mild form in most cases.

Among GPs, according to Anne Mawdsley, director of the association, there is still some reluctance to take Raynaud's seriously. "Doctors are better than they were in the past, but mainly because patients are asserting themselves more," she says.

My own experience, it seems, was fairly typical. The first specialist whom I saw warned me that my fingers would drop off if I wasn't careful, but said that all he could prescribe was a warm pair of gloves. A year on, under the care of a team at the Royal Free Hospital in London, I know better. Conventional drugs - namely vasodilators, which widen the arteries - can help, as can certain vitamins and supplements.

Only the symptoms can be treated, though. There is no cure for the condition, which is named after Maurice Raynaud, the French doctor who published a thesis about it in 1862. No cause has been identified either, although some believe that stress can be a factor.

Anne Mawdsley, who suffers from a particularly severe form of Raynaud's, described the pain that she experiences. "It's excruciating. It feels as if your fingers have been squeezed in a vice, or trapped in a car door. Picking up a milk bottle, or walking from one room to another, can be enough to shut the blood supply down."

For about 3,500 people in this country, Raynaud's is the first symptom of scleroderma, an auto-immune disease which affects the skin and internal organs, and can be fatal.

Warm hands are the often elusive goal for people with Raynaud's, but gloves alone are not sufficient. The association stresses the importance of keeping the rest of the body warm, and of eating hot food, taking regular exercise and using heating aids, such as hand warmers.

The Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association, 112 Crewe Road, Alsager, Cheshire, ST7 2JA, tel 01270 872776.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

    £7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

    Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

    £27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

    Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

    Day In a Page

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'