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.
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 versus pain from the cold stiffness. Either way, pain hurts.
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.
Since I have RA, I am at risk for developing secondary Raynaud’s (also called Raynaud’s phenomenon) which is particularly common in people with connective tissue diseases such as scleroderma and lupus. 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 CRP (C-reactive protein) blood tests to help determine the underlying cause.
Primary Raynaud’s (also called Raynaud’s disease) is common, has no identifiable underlying cause, and affects about 5 percent of the general population according to the National Institutes of Health. 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.
But this is where it gets kinda interesting. I did a quick search to see if I could find concrete information about the occurrence of Raynaud’s in people with MS. I found several individual references on websites and blogs, but they all seem to refer back to a single mention of MS as a potential secondary cause of Raynaud’s from a patient website in the UK.
Then I conducted a quick search of the medical literature on pubmed.gov. The only mentions I could find were studies that pointed to Raynaud’s developing in MS patients who were treated with beta interferons. Once the beta interferon therapy was stopped, the Raynaud’s symptoms went away.
The NIH website does mention, however, that conditions which damage the nerves that control the arteries in the hands and feet may cause secondary Raynaud’s. I believe these would be part of the sympathetic nervous system which arises from near the middle of the spinal cord, according to Wikipedia. So it seems logical that damage higher upstream in the nervous system could affect the function of these peripheral nerves.
Back 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 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.