Cold Fingers and Toes: Raynaud’s Syndrome?
Last updated: April 2023
So this is something I noticed in 2013 when I first traveled to Ireland. Ireland was experiencing an extended winter, so it was an average of 32 degrees outside. It was relatively windy, as it is an island surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Walking around Dublin I started noticing very quickly that my fingers were becoming extremely cold to the point that they hurt. It felt as though I had held my hands in ice water till they were numb and then dunked them in hot water. I had several layers of gloves on, crossed my arms to keep my hands close to my core, and even still I had to return inside because it was so painful.
I had never experienced this in my life. Sure I grew up in southern California where 60 degrees Fahrenheit was considered to be “cold,” but I was always the guy at parties who could hold my hands in a bucket of ice water the longest! If that sounds weird, don’t ask; just know it was a thing. I never had a problem in the mountains during winter when I used to snowboard or just enjoy the colder weather. What was going on? Whenever I was in a cold environment I started noticing this pain in my hands even though the rest of my body felt fine, even hot!
What is Raynaud's syndrome?
I started looking into it and I kept coming across “Raynaud’s disease” or “Raynaud’s syndrome” (named after Dr. Maurice Raynaud). So I asked my neurologist what he thought it might be (without mentioning Raynaud’s) and the first thing out of his mouth was in fact Raynaud’s…
So what is Raynaud’s? It is when the small blood vessels in areas of your body such as your fingertips, toes, nose, or ears constrict when exposed to cold temperatures. There are different forms of Raynaud’s such as primary, which occurs with no apparent underlying cause. In secondary Reynaud’s, it develops because of a health condition.1
Symptoms may include pain (obviously), pins and needles, numbness, throbbing, or changing of the color of skin on the affected area. At first I didn’t think this was a proper diagnosis because my fingers did not turn white, red, purple, or blue. But some people may not experience all the color changes.2
The struggle with colder weather
Now that I am in Colorado where it is significantly colder (it’s currently 0 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of -14 degrees), I am noticing this pain much more often. So I started looking into what can be done about it. Of course, the number-one answers I came across were “try to keep warm” and “try not to touch cold objects.” Thank you Captain Obvious for that incredibly helpful advice. But from what I am reading, there really is nothing to do other than gently warm the affected areas. It's also recommended to avoid smoking, as that can contribute to narrowing blood vessels.1
In severe cases there are medications available to help dilate blood vessels but they can come with some side effects (such as headaches, flushing, and nausea) that may make taking them just not worth it.2 As I always say though; everyone is different. None of my medications seem to cause this symptom and I do not smoke, so I guess the best remedy for this symptom of mine is to invest in a really good pair of gloves. You can also try using heating packs or electric powered heating gloves to keep warm, none of which I have tried as of yet.
Raynaud's and MS
I don’t know the statistics on MS and Raynaud’s, but I can say that I have noticed people online in the various MS communities that I am involved with complaining of this issue. That’s another reason I wanted to look into it because no one had a name for it or even knew if it was MS-related or not. Obviously you will want to ask your neurologist about it before diagnosing yourself, but I am definitely curious: do you experience painfully cold body parts?
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