This condition is basically "an exaggerated response of the body to cold."
There are two kinds of people, one who loves the winters and one who hates it. Rachel Smith falls into the latter category; she just can't stand the cold season. That's because whenever it gets cold, her body overreacts, narrowing the blood vessels in her extremities so much that they turn sickly pale.
According to TODAY, this condition is known as Raynaud's disease.
When Smith has an attack, her fingers first turn white, then yellow, and eventually blue. Her toes and ears also experience this. If she tries to grab something with her hand, she can’t feel it. But she does experience the pain soon enough.
“It feels like the tingling when your hand falls asleep, but magnify that by a thousand,” Smith, 34, who lives in Sacramento, California, said. “The ears are the worst. If I know I’m going to be outside, and it’s cold or windy, I have to have a beanie. I’ve described it as someone putting a knife in my ear and turning it. It’s very painful.”
The worst part is that the cold weather is not the only thing that triggers Smith. It can be something as casual as holding a chilled drink in her hand or relaxing in an air-conditioned room in the summer. Because of this, she always has to carry a jacket or a blanket with her, wherever she goes.
“I hate when people just brush it off as ‘You’re just extra sensitive to cold,’" she said. "It’s a legit disease.”
It is a condition that causes some areas of your body to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud's disease, smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin become narrow, thus limiting blood flow to affected areas (vasospasm), according to Mayo Clinic.
This condition reportedly affects about 5% of the U.S. population and is said to be more common in women than in men. “It’s an exaggerated response of the body to cold,” said Dr. Ashima Makol, a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
It goes from white to blue because the constricted blood vessels start relaxing a little bit, Makol said. There's a lot more blood coming in than before, but since there is not enough oxygen present, it has a blue tinge.
Finally, when oxygenated blood returns to the area, it turns red. "That red phase is associated with a lot of pain, discomfort, numbness, tingling, burning sensations before it completely normalizes," Makol noted.
Primary Raynaud's: This is the most common type of condition which happens on its own. Patients tend to notice the distinctive color changes in their teens or early 20s. This is the type Smith was diagnosed with after she spotted the symptoms while she was in the 8th grade.
Secondary Raynaud's: This condition is also known as Raynaud's phenomenon which usually happens because of an underlying disease or other factors. Most scleroderma patients develop it, for example, Makol said. People with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can also experience Raynaud’s.
Unfortunately, the cause of primary Raynaud's is unknown, but secondary Raynaud's is actually linked to diseases and conditions that directly damage the arteries, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
In fact, people who work with a jackhammer, drill, or other vibrating instruments can also develop the condition, Makol said. Also, certain medications, including beta-blockers, can cause it, too.
The fact that there is an “impressive color change in your fingers” and toes makes this condition very easy to self-diagnose, according to Makol. Once that is done, a simple visit to the doctor can tell you if it is primary or secondary.
Well, for starters, patients with primary Raynaud's rarely develop any complications. However, some patients with secondary Raynaud's may experience tissue damage, nail abnormalities, fingertip ulcers, or even gangrene that would ultimately lead to amputation, Makol noted.
Treatment for the condition varies based on the severity of the symptoms. The condition “can be mild and manageable… or it can be very severe: multiple episodes a day with each episode lasting up to 15 to 20 minutes. During that time, you can imagine how painful and discomforting that is,” Makol said.
There are aggressive forms of treatment, such as medications like calcium channel blockers, which dilate the blood vessels, Makol noted. The drug Sildenafil, which is also the active ingredient in Viagra, can also help. But these are only for the extreme cases, as people with mild episodes are simply encouraged to keep their core body temperature warm and use gloves and hand warmers.
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Alkov