Roughly 10 million people in the UK experience a poor circulation condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon.
It’s caused by an imbalance inside the small blood vessels – normally in the hands and feet – and can have a huge impact on keeping them warm in the colder months.
What is Raynaud’s?
The poor circulation condition, or phenomenon, causes the smaller blood vessels in the extremities, such as fingers, toes, nose and ears, to restrict in response to the cold or stress.
When this happens, it can turn the skin white, then blue from lack of oxygen normally supplied by the blood, and then red as blood flows back in. It can be very painful, and sufferers may also feel tingling or numbness.
Women tend to suffer more than men, so hormones may play a role, but there could also be a genetic disposition to develop Raynaud’s.
Most sufferers have primary Raynaud’s, which happens in response to your hands and feet getting too cold. The other, rarer, type is secondary Raynaud’s, which can be linked to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or scleroderma.
Changes in temperature – going from a warm lounge out to a chilly hallway, for example – may cause more problems than simply being out in cold weather. Stress can also be a culprit, as stress naturally causes blood vessels to narrow. This response is exaggerated in people with Raynaud’s.
What happens during a Raynaud’s attack?
Your hands may become extremely cold and feel like they’re being plunged into the bottom of a freezer. Basic activities, such as picking up coins, washing, dressing, and cutting food, can be difficult.
Attacks can last from a few minutes to half an hour or more, and the frequency varies from person to person and how severely they suffer.
Raynaud’s may improve naturally over time, but managing the condition means taking steps to prevent an attack. Avoiding exposure to cold is key, but this may not always be possible.
Wear gloves to keep your hands warm – not just in winter if you really suffer – and try to avoid putting your hands in water; if it’s not the right temperature, it could trigger an attack.
Some sufferers may need prescription medication to open up the blood vessels, but natural remedies could also be effective. Taking vitamins A and C may help prevent damage to blood vessels, while ginkgo biloba has had the most research conducted on it – there’s evidence to show it can help reduce the number of Raynaud’s attacks.
Try to have at least one hot meal a day and avoid going too long without food. Caffeine can also make symptoms worse, so try cutting it out of your diet and replacing it with warming herbal teas instead.Get more advice on beating poor circulation in our specialist heart and circulation section.
This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine.