Raynaud’s: Managing symptoms and avoiding triggers

With winter now upon us – a bad season for Raynaud’s patients – we asked members of our community for tips to avoid triggers and manage their symptoms.

Raynaud's phenomenon can be a debilitating condition for those who live with it. There are two known types of Raynaud's – primary and secondary.

Primary Raynaud's, meaning the condition occurs by itself, is the most common form. This type is thought to cause disruptions in how the nervous system controls blood vessels but exactly what causes these disruptions is unclear. There is some evidence that primary Raynaud's may be an inherited condition, as cases have been known to run in families.

The majority of cases of secondary Raynaud's are associated with autoimmune conditions, which can cause blood vessels to overreact.

Both types have identical symptoms and occur in up to 10 million people in the UK.

With winter now upon us – a bad season for Raynaud's patients – we asked members of our community for tips to avoid triggers and manage their symptoms.

The following typically triggers Raynaud's episodes:

  • Sudden changes in temperature
  • Hormonal changes
  • Emotional changes
  • Stress
  • Vibrating tools

Although symptoms can make day-to-day tasks more difficult, they can be managed effectively once you understand your triggers. Every patient with Raynaud's phenomenon will notice things that trigger their episodes and it is important to keep a note of any key triggers to prevent more episodes.

Simple ways to avoid the core triggers include:

  • Ensure your whole house is heated evenly to avoid temperature changes between rooms during winter months.
  • If possible, pre-heat your car before leaving the house to minimise time spent in the cold.
  • If you struggle with stress management, consider exploring meditation or mindfulness practice to calm your mind and avoid episodes.
  • Seek help during periods of emotional upheaval to avoid triggering episodes of Raynaud's.
  • If you have a hormonal imbalance, discuss options with your doctor to bring these under control.
  • Avoid using vibrating tools where possible.

While these are typical triggers for those living with Raynaud's phenomenon, some of our community experience different triggers that you might be familiar with.

Karen Raney-Marr, who has primary Raynaud's, said: “For me, anything is a trigger! Sometimes there is no reason whatsoever and I just have to manage the episode."

Sarah Cox, who has secondary Raynaud's, said: “My temperature threshold is much lower than the average person. My husband can be boiling and I'll be freezing. I have to wear lots of layers and I have to be very mindful of exposing myself to the elements.

“When I wash my hands I have to dry them really quickly because if I don't them being wet will drop the temperature, and they'll really start to hurt. I generally try to make sure that if I get my hands wet then I have something to dry them with close by.

“Stress is another trigger. If I'm nervous or worried, it takes over and I can't get warm.

“If I sit still for a long period of time, then the lack of circulation will trigger an episode. If I go up and down the stairs or move around, my feet are warm again. Sitting still for long periods of time make things numb and I lose circulation."

Managing Raynaud's

Tackling Raynaud's can be a daily struggle but there are plenty of nifty techniques to help minimise your suffering. We will not be discussing medicinal options here, but there are many treatments you can find on our website if you experience severe symptoms.

The key to managing Raynaud's phenomenon is preventing an attack before it happens by planning ahead.

Keep Warm

Avoiding cold environments, touching cold items or spending time in areas where temperatures fluctuate will reduce the number of episodes you experience.

Wear lots of thin layers and loose clothing in order to retain warmth. Invest in thermals, including shoe insoles, and fleece-lined gloves, socks and coats.

Karen said: “I use an app on my phone to control my heating at home, so that I can make sure my home is always warm before I arrive. I also have a heated steering wheel to prevent attacks in my car.

While many patients recommend gloves, Sarah strongly advises against them, saying: “Wear mittens instead of gloves. If your hands are cold and you put gloves on you isolate the fingers and they're not going to get warm. If you wear mittens, you've got more chance of warming up because your fingers are together."

Preventing Ulcers

For many patients with Raynaud's, digital ulcers can be the most debilitating symptom. Here are some ways to keep ulcers at bay:

  • Look after your skin and cover any broken areas with a clean plaster.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of infection in broken skin – yellow discharge, redness, swelling, pain and failure to heal.
  • If you spot any signs, contact your medical team immediately.
  • Keep a diary of where your ulcers appear – this will help your doctor monitor and treat the problem.
  • Eating protein can help the body heal quicker from digital ulcers.

Lifestyle Changes

Many lifestyle changes can also have a positive impact on Raynaud's symptoms and your ability to manage the condition.

Karen says: “The gym really helps me. I go regularly and it warms me up in winter and elevates my mood too."

Other changes include:

  • Switch to a healthier, more balanced diet and avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Some food supplements, including evening primrose oil, gingko biloba and fish oils have been found to help Raynaud's sufferers.
  • Ginger, garlic and spicy food are also believed to help the condition.
  • Quit smoking – one cigarette can reduce the body's temperature by up to one degree for 20 minutes.
  • Try low impact exercise, like swimming, yoga, walking, cycling or pilates.

Managing Raynaud's can be tricky but paying attention to your triggers will help alleviate your symptoms on a daily basis. Spend the time learning about your condition and identifying your triggers so that you can prioritise behaviours that will reduce the number of episodes.

As Sarah Cox said:“With your health you have to prioritise what you need, not what you want. Just be sensible and put your health first."

If you are interested in helping SRUK to fund work that will help to improve the quality of life of our community, then please donate today. We rely on the generosity of the community to continue to support groundbreaking research in both scleroderma and Raynaud's.

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If you'd like to learn more about Raynaud's, then head to our recent article: Latest research into Raynaud's syndrome.