>> Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I whine a whole lot on this blog about how much I hate cold weather. One of the reasons I hate cold is that my fingers and toes are extremely sensitive to cold - moreso than most people's. I have Raynaud's (pronounced "Ray-Nodes") Disease, which isn't as serious as it may sound, but it's SERIOUSLY ANNOYING.
Whenever my extremities (hands, feet, nose) get cold, they start going completely numb in random spots. They turn a disgusting translucent sort of white, and eventually a lovely shade of purplish blue. Once they start warming up they turn an amazing livid shade of orange. If they stay blue long enough, it hurts like hell to warm them up again.
I didn't plan ahead long enough for this blog post, so all I have are photos of a very mild white phase to show off. Spot the two white finger tips:
My husband refers affectionately to my fingers and toes in the white and blue phases as being "dead," based on their resemblance to a corpse. His term of endearment has stuck, largely because he's right. They're creepily corpselike.
From what little research I have done, I have been able to gather that scientists don't know much more about the mechanisms of Raynaud's than I do. They know the weird discolorations and numbness are caused by vasospasms, meaning the blood vessels contract and restrict blood flow. It's far more common in women than in men, and is most often seen in women "of child bearing years". It's often linked with other diseases, particularly autoimmune diseases and hypothyroidism. It also has been linked to repetitive stress injuries, smoking, certain drugs, and chemical exposures.
But what is it? Is it autoimmune itself? Why do the blood vessels restrict - where are the neurological commands to restrict coming from and why? No answers yet. I shall try to refrain from grumbling about the lack of effort that seems to be spent on researching diseases that affect women more than men. Oops - too late. I guess I already did. :)
Thankfully, it's not terrifically serious for most people. The "treatment" for me is to warm up the extremities before the lack of blood flow has had time to do any damage, which typically is not hard. I spend extra money on super warm socks and mittens and boots, and tend to carry pocket hand warmers with me all winter, and whenever we're hiking, just in case.
However, I admit to having twisted nightmarish fears about not warming my hands or feet up in time. I worked for a while in my past as a Federal Court law clerk handling prisoner cases, including a few claims by prisoners related to Raynaud's. The folks making the claims were heavy smokers and in ill health, but the vivid descriptions of ulcers that wouldn't heal, gangrene, and amputations stayed with me. Vividly.
On that cheerful note, I think I'm running a little low on hand warmers. Time to stock up!