Raynaud’s: how to beat the February chill

February is, on average, one of the two coldest month of the year, with February 17 the coldest day (based on averages over the past 130 years). And February is also Raynaud's Awareness Month.

Organised by the charity Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK, this month-long event aims to help increase awareness and understanding of Raynaud’s phenomenon (or simply Raynaud’s, previously called Raynaud’s disease), and why it’s important that everyone knows the signs and symptoms to look out for.

According to the charity, Raynaud’s affects millions of people in the UK, with one in six thought to be living with the condition. It makes the small blood vessels in your fingers or toes particularly sensitive to things like the cold, changes in temperature (even very slight changes) and also sometimes stress or anxiety. Smoking is also thought to trigger an attack.

If you’re affected, one or more of your fingers may turn white and feel numb or tingly as your blood flow becomes restricted. They may subsequently turn a bluish colour – which is your blood vessels reacting to the lack of blood flow – and then bright red as your blood flow returns. It can feel very uncomfortable and sometimes painful, and you may find it difficult to perform everyday tasks where you need to use your hands and fingers. Some people also find other extremities such as their ears, nose, lips or nipples can also be affected.

Raynaud’s can develop in anyone of any age. It’s rare in young children but common in teenagers, many of whom stop having symptoms in their early twenties. It may also run in families – if so, according to Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK the symptoms tend to be relatively mild.

You may develop Raynaud’s for no reason (primary Raynaud’s), or it can be linked with an associated condition (secondary Raynaud’s). So if you find yourself with any of the symptoms it’s important to see your GP for a diagnosis and to rule out any related conditions, such as scleroderma (where an over-production of collagen makes your skin become stiff and tight) or lupus, a long-term condition that causes inflammation in your joints, skin and other organs.

How to stay warm

Prescription medication is available that may help if you have very severe Raynaud’s symptoms. But if your symptoms are relatively mild, you may be able to help yourself by avoiding becoming too cold, especially during the winter months.

This means wrapping up warm if you have to go outside by wearing several thin layers of clothing, including thermal clothing, rather than one thin layer. Try putting a pair of thin cotton or silk gloves under thicker woollen gloves or mittens for added warmth, or buy some special gloves and socks made with silver, as these reflect much of your body’s heat back into your skin (ask your local Careway pharmacist if they have any in stock).

Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK has lots more advice on staying warm that may be useful at this time of year, including the following:

  • Use a hairdryer to warm your clothes and shoes before going out
  • Alternatively keep your clothes and shoes for the next day in your airing cupboard overnight
  • Use warm air hand dryers in public conveniences to keep your hands warm while shopping
  • Take a flask of hot water or soup with you when you’re going on a car journey, just in case you need it
  • Have a hot bath before going to bed to warm your body (leave the water in the bath while you dress to keep your bathroom warm)
  • Don’t handle ice cold drinks straight from the fridge and use insulated gloves before getting anything out of your fridge or freezer
  • While watching TV place a hot water bottle behind your back or under your feet

Your pharmacist can also advise you about heating aids and gadgets that are available to buy, such as disposable, rechargeable and microwaveable heat packs.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.