Raynaud's is a condition in which the blood supply to the extremities, usually the fingers and toes but sometimes also the ears and nose, is interrupted. During an attack they become first white and dead looking then blue and then red and burning. There may be considerable pain, numbness or tingling.
These symptoms are due to an intermittent lack of blood in the affected parts when the arteries normally supplying them spasmodically contract. An attack will often be triggered by touching cold objects or exposure to cold of any kind. Emotions, such as anxiety, also play a part as can smoking.
People who work with vibratory tools are prone to Raynaud's and this appears to be permanent even when the work is stopped. This condition is known as Vibration Induced White Finger and is recognised as an industrial disease eligible for compensation.
The condition can range in severity from minor discomfort to the onset of ulcers or even gangrene. Progress may be very slow over a period of thirty years or more and often starts in the very young or early teens. Women are affected nine times more than men and it seems to be a change of temperature rather than simple cold exposure that triggers an attack so it can occur in the summer as well as the winter.
Raynaud's can be subdivided into primary or secondary. Anyone of any age can develop Primary Raynaud's which occurs spontaneously without any underlying condition being present. It can be hereditary in which case it is usually fairly mild. Secondary Raynaud's is less common and is associated with underlying diseases such as scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and for those with a mild condition, stopping smoking, wearing gloves and avoiding the cold may be enough. If the condition is severe the GP can advise on the different types of drugs available, which include vasodilators - drugs which open up the small blood vessels.