"Cold hands, warm heart!" I'd say to my kids when they were little as I chased them through the house to change their clothes. They dreaded this from approximately October through the following early May, when my Raynaud's disease was activated by our cruel northern Ohio climate, making my hands like blocks of ice on their skin. I had my first Raynauds attack when my daughter was a baby, hitting me in my mid-30's.
In the summer months there was no evidence that I had any problem at all, although an attack at the WalMart this past July had me worried that my disease was getting worse. WalMart keeps the store so cold that I'm prone to attacks when I linger too long in the frozen foods section. Raynaud's attacks can also be precipitated by emotional factors, so I wonder if my Walmart attacks come on by virtue of me hating to shop in this big box of a rat hole. Their produce and meat suck but I get too many staples at substantial savings that I suck up and continue shopping, but the resentment in there. I wonder if my Walmart resentment is a major predisposing factor.
Here's what happens when I have an attack. My hands are always freakin cold, but when an attack comes on, one or more of my fingers starts to go numb and the color drains. Lately, attacks occur in multiple fingers of one or both hands. Curiously, it never affects my thumbs. I read that has something to do with the arterial circulation of the hands. During an attack my fingers will go through a patriotic transformation through three color stages. The first is the white stage...the dead finger stage in which the affected fingers will turn a corpse-like white with a yellowish cast. My hands look like they were snatched from from a lady in Madame Tussuad's Wax Museum. This stage is uncomfortable, but not necessarily painful. It makes it difficult to write out the check to the cranky Wal-Mart ladies during the white stage--it's like having totally numb fingers. I used to be so fastidious about the ups and downs in my signature; I wanted equal heighted swells in the double cc's and i of my last name, but I had to forgo all perfection when I became prone to WalMart checkout attacks.
The white stage can last for hours if my hands aren't re-warmed somehow. The easiest way to thaw them out is by running them under luke-warm water. After a few minutes, the blue stage begins as blood starts to flow back into the tissues. You can watch the blue start from the middle of my hands and proceed toward my finger tips. Once the blue reaches the fingertips, the red stage of this technicolor spectacle begins and this is the stage I dread...the red stage is initiated by a pins and needles throbbing pain which heralds the final necessary stage to end an attack. I remember freaking out a young girl who happened upon my tricolor hand spectacle in a public restroom when I was sticken during a spring festival.
There are two types of Raynaud's disease. Fortunately, I have the kind that is a disease in itself--Primary Raynaud's--with no known cause or cure. Raynaud's is an autoimmune disorder of the nervous system which affects the circulation of the hands and feet. It's managed and dealt with primarily through preventative measures. The other kind of Raynauds exists as a secondary symptom of some pretty miserable autoimmune disorders such as Lupus and Scleroderma. There's a series of blood tests that enable a doctor to differentiate which type you have. It affects more woman than men, striking usually in your 20's or 30's.
Anything that adversely affects circulation will also adversely affect Raynaud's so it's a darned good thing I quit smoking when I was 30. It's also a darned good thing I started running because this has a positive effect on Raynaud's. I'm distressed, however, that most of my attacks fall on the heels of what I enjoy doing most--running. Something about my core temperature dropping suddenly that seems to bring on attacks. In late August our group did a Road Runner 18 mile training run in the rain. It was a cool rain and while my fingers almost never bother me while running, I have severe attacks the moment I stop. That particular attack affected eight fingers down to midway in my hands. It was difficult to handle the steering wheel of the car and frightened my husband to death when I showed him two waxy white corpse hands. I've heard that repeated attacks of Raynauds cause tissue damage which precipitate even worse attacks later, coming at more frequent intervals and this seems to be the case. I started keeping a log to better keep track of attacks. During attacks I'm very prone to frost bite, so this is why I'm obsessed with gloves and keeping my hands warm.
I really don't want to let this disease keep me from doing what I love, so I've decided to educate myself the best I can, take a positive and proactive approach, and not let this stupid disease keep me in house all winter. Cardiac meds can be prescribed to lessen attacks but then I have the ordeal of dealing with cardiac med side effects. My doctor advised me that since I'm a runner, I'd probably want to avoid that for as long as I can. I've added a few new layers to my management of the disease with some herbal/vitamin therapy. I've added niacin and Evening Primrose oil to my arsenal of very expensive gloves.
Gosh...other than this I'm pretty darned healthy. If this is all I have to deal with, then I consider myself blessed. It's a big pain in the ass, but what can you do, but deal with it?
I ordered the most comprehensive book I can find on Raynaud's from Amazon.com. Hopefully, I can learn a few new tricks for dealing with this menace. Or I could just pull up roots and move to Florida...