Raynauds - Cold Hands and Feet

Cold Hands and Feet

At one time or another, everyone gets caught in the chilling grip of Old Man Winter. It's inevitable. However, some of us get the chills even after the winter months are in the rearview mirror. Believe it or not, some folks suffer from cold hands and feet just by setting foot in the frozen-food section of the supermarket or by entering an air-conditioned room.

If this happens to you, there's a good chance that you have Raynaud's syndrome. Raynaud's is a common disorder that causes your fingers and toes to become very cold and numb, says Jay D. Coffman, M.D., chief of peripheral vascular medicine at Boston University Medical Center.

A bout with cold fingers and toes is usually temporary and is mostly just uncomfortable. And if you do have this disorder, you aren't sentenced to a lifetime of cold hands and feet. Doctors have come up with things you can do to prevent rampant Raynaud's or even fight off the chilly numbness when it nips your fingers and bites your toes.

Try This First

Get relief at arm's length. If you start to feel a chill and see your fingers begin to turn white, quickly place your cold hand in a warm place, Dr. Coffman says. Your armpit, for example. "By sticking your hand under your arm, you can stop the cold and numbing sensation of Raynaud's quickly," he says.

To reverse or help prevent the cold-feet problem, try wearing thermal socks, using warming chemical packs obtained at a sports or ski shop, or purchasing boots that can be heated, suggests Dr. Coffman. "Remember not to stamp your feet when they are cold, to avoid injury to them," he says.

Other Wise Ways

Freeze out your triggers. The next time your fingers and toes go cold, take note of what you just did that triggered it. Were you holding a cold can of soda Did you reach into the freezer Now you know what to avoid. "Triggers can be everyday things like holding a frozen beer mug at a party, walking into an air-conditioned room from the sweltering heat, or emerging from a heated pool into a cooler environment," says Dr. Coffman.

Warm up to wearing mittens. Of course, if cold days are the trigger, you can't take a flight to the tropics every time winter sets in. But you can protect your hands.

If gloves don't put your fingers in a tropical mode, try wearing mittens. "They do a better job of trapping the heat from your entire hand," Dr. Coffman says. Wear them whenever you go out on a cold winter day.

And you might need mittens inside the house, too. "I have patients that wear mittens every time they reach into their freezer," says Dr. Coffman.

Managing Your Meds

The most commonly prescribed medication to treat Raynaud's is a vasodilator that acts as a calcium blocker, such as nifedipine (procardia). calcium blockers dilate the blood vessels in your body and allow blood to flow freely to your extremities, says Jay D. Coffman, M.D., chief of peripheral vascular medicine at Boston University Medical Center.

The most common side effect of taking calcium blockers is occasional headaches, but they are less common as your body adjusts to taking the medication, according to W. Steven pray, ph.D.,, professor of nonprescription drug products at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford.

There are a number of medications that may trigger Raynaud's, except if you already have primary Raynaud's, in which case you won't be effected. Even if you aren't prone to cold fingers and toes, talk to your doctor before taking the following:

Migraine headache medications such as ergotamine preparations (Wigraine)

Heart and blood medications such as beta-blockers, like propranolol (Inderal)

Wear a head-heating hat. When you warn your kids and grandchildren not to leave the house without a hat on, remember to take that advice yourself. You lose much body heat from the top of your head, so cover that head of yours with a hat, says Donald McIntyre, M.D., dermatologist in private practice in Rutland, Vermont. By keeping the heat in your body, you're protecting your hands and feet from a bout of Raynaud's.

Swing into action. Suffering from cold fingers You can warm up those ice-cold digits with a simple arm-swinging exercise, says Dr. McIntyre. pretend you're about to pitch a softball, but keep your fingers, wrist, and elbow straight while swinging your arm in a windmill fashion. "Living in Vermont, I borrowed this idea from people whom I watched up here on the ski slopes," says Dr. McIntyre. "I noticed that they kept their hands and arms warm by whirling them around when they are on top of the mountain. And I found out that it not only works on the mountain, it works in everyday life." Dr. McIntyre recommends a swinging speed of 80 whirls per minute, but notes that any windmill speed will boost the blood flow to your cold digits.

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