Living with Raynaud's: Elizabeth's Story

Dorset mum says even supermarket trips can be painful: "I feel the cold a lot and struggle with things like going to the supermarket, especially visiting the cold aisles..."

Many people complain about the cold, but for around 10 million people in the UK, the dreary winter months can be more problematic than needing to wear an extra jumper or arguing about when the heating should go on. 

For Elizabeth Hooks, a brain injury specialist and mother of three from Dorset, cold temperatures often mean that even simple trips to the supermarket can leave her in pain.

Elizabeth has been living with Raynaud’s since she was a teenager, and her mum also has the condition.  She began taking medication at the age of 14 to help minimise symptoms, but still experiences painful attacks.

Explaining what it’s like to live with Raynaud’s, Elizabeth says: 

“I feel the cold a lot and struggle with things like going to the supermarket, especially visiting the cold aisles. When I get really cold, I struggle to pick things up and can’t get my card out of my purse because my fingers are so numb. Things like touching the corner of a cardboard box can be agony when I am having an attack and in winter my skin gets really dry and splits, even the smallest cuts won’t heal.”

Raynaud’s is a chronic condition that can cause painful ‘attacks’, which are triggered by cold temperatures and stress. During an attack, blood vessels constrict and temporarily stop blood flow to parts of the body such as hands, feet, ears, nose and even nipples. The skin may turn white then blue and become numb. As the blood begins to return after an attack, affected areas turn red and become painful. Women are around four times more likely than men to have the condition.

Elizabeth says that sometimes, she can be in so much pain that her children have to help her with simple everyday tasks such as doing up her shoelaces and fastening her seatbelt.

And it isn’t just the cold weather that can trigger attacks. A swim in the sea at the height of summer leaves Elizabeth’s feet white and numb and, as much as she loves sport, some activities just aren’t possible.

“Raynaud’s stops me doing a lot of outdoor sports that I would like to do such as skiing,” she says. “But if it’s cold and icy I have to be extra careful that I don’t lose my balance because I can’t feel my feet.”

Elizabeth isn’t alone with her condition: Raynaud’s is thought to affect one in six adults in the UK, making it as common as hayfever. However, a survey by SRUK in 2021 found that 24.8 million people (nearly 1 in 2 UK adults) don’t know any of the signs of Raynaud’s.

Symptoms include:

  • extremely cold fingers and toes,
  • colour changes in the skin in response to cold or stress,
  • colour changes in the affected areas to white, then blue and then red,
  • numbness, tingling or pain in the fingers or toes when an attack first happens and then stinging or throbbing pain as they warm up.

Sue Farrington, SRUK Chief Executive, said:Stories like Elizabeth’s are not uncommon. Many people are likely to dismiss symptoms and don’t think to visit their doctor, so stay undiagnosed. But Raynaud’s can have a major impact on your quality of life.

“It’s important to recognise the signs of Raynaud’s and seek help, because there are things you can do and treatments you can take to help manage the condition and minimise the likelihood of painful attacks. If anyone thinks they may have Raynaud’s, I encourage them to go to the SRUK website and take our simple online test.”

If you think you may have Raynaud’s, take our online test to find out more.