Cold Hands-Hot Body: It’s All Bothersome To Some Degree

Growing up in central Oklahoma, I learned to love the feel of the sun on my skin. As soon as spring rolled in, I would come home from high school and lay out in the backyard to soak up some rays. I didn’t usually stay out too long, because our dog Charlie would like to cause mischief and try to take my glasses laying on the towel next to me. I’m sure that I got lots of nice vitamin D and I always avoided sunburn.

Now, the idea of laying out in the sun makes me think of how impossible it might be to get up and walk straight if I’ve overheated. Heat and my MS do not play along well.

Cooler weather brings different challenges

The weather has finally turned, and it is definitely autumn out there. I love the slightly chilly, crisp weather. But when it gets colder, even if it’s indoors, I have different problems. My muscles will become extra stiff and tense and my hands begin to turn to stone. This is not so good for someone who uses their hands as much as I do which requires quick, limber, flexible digits and fine motor skills.

When my hands get too cold, they not only get stiff and slow, they will begin to hurt. This makes it difficult to distinguish between pain from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) versus pain from the cold stiffness. Either way, the pain hurts.

Could it be Raynaud's disease?

I have started to suspect that I might have Raynaud’s, which is characterized by vasoconstriction (blood vessels get smaller) that reduces blood flow and fresh oxygen to the fingers or toes. For some people, their fingers may even turn ghostly white or purple-blue due to the change in blood flow. My fingers don’t do that, but they have turned pale and feel very cold to the touch.1,2

How is Raynaud's disease detected?

There's primary Raynaud’s, which has no identifiable underlying cause. Then there is secondary Raynaud’s, which happens because of a health condition. Since I have RA, I am at risk for developing secondary Raynaud’s (also called Raynaud’s phenomenon). It can also happen in people with connective tissue diseases such as lupus.1

If you show signs of Raynaud’s but haven’t been diagnosed with a connective tissue disease, your doctor may order tests such as ANA (antinuclear antibodies), ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation or “sed rate”), or other blood tests to help determine the underlying cause.1

I’ve read reports from people with MS who suspect they have Raynaud’s. That’s totally possible, because we are not exempt from developing many of the conditions others may experience who don’t have MS.

Dealing with my symptoms

So to dealing with it. Regardless of the cause of the cold hands, I need to find a way to increase the blood flow to my hands/fingers without overheating my core body temperature. Running warm water over my hands feels nice, but the effect doesn’t last long. Many of my sweaters are great at keeping my torso warm but don’t do too much for my hands. Wearing winter gloves is not practical for ease of typing or playing the piano.

In my search for answers, I came across Wristies, which are one of several types of fingerless, not-really-gloves-or-mittens, keep-your-hands-warm devices. I’ve ordered a pair to see if they might be helpful. I might feel silly wearing almost-gloves in the house, but if they work, great! And one more thing I learned - October is Raynaud’s Awareness Month.

So to all of my heat-sensitive MS friends who also experience problems with cold, you are not alone! Several of us in the community completely understand your struggle.

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