Raynaud’s Disease Can Affect Seniors’ Hands and Feet


Everyone gets cold from time to time. It’s especially common to have chilly fingertips and toes. One of the reasons is because these are the furthest body parts from our heart, making them the last to get the infusion of oxygenated-blood with every heartbeat. When it’s cold outside, it’s much more likely that these areas – especially your hands, which are often exposed – can get cold enough to be very uncomfortable.

But for some people, the body’s typical response to cold is much worse than what you might expect. In many cases it’s because of Raynaud’s disease, a condition in which the small arteries that supply blood to your skin become narrow, leading to limited blood flow.

Also known as Raynaud’s syndrome or Raynaud’s phenomenon, this unusual condition doesn’t actually threaten life or limb. But it can be quite uncomfortable. The American College of Rheumatology says that about 10% of the population has Raynaud’s disease.

Explaining Raynaud’s Disease

Raynaud’s is “a rare disorder of the blood vessels, usually in the fingers and toes.” Other parts of the body, such as the nose and ears, can also be affected. It might even show up in your knees! The condition occurs as a result of feeling cold or suffering under a lot of stress.

When an attack comes, the affected areas of your skin will turn white first, then often turn blue as the lack of oxygen takes a toll. The area can begin to feel cold and numb. How long this lasts depends upon on the person. Then as the area begins to warm up again as blood flow improves, there is a stinging pain. The area might also turn red or throb with every heartbeat. The return of normal blood flow can take 15 minutes or so, according to the Mayo Clinic.

How Do You Get Raynaud’s?

No one really knows what triggers Raynaud’s syndrome. But we do know how the process goes. When the body is exposed to cold or stress, certain arteries will go into spasm and become quite narrow. This briefly limits the blood flow to the area. At first the symptoms are confined to the attack and don’t continue afterward; however, over time the arteries that spasm can thicken. When spasms happen in the thickened arteries, the blood flow is compromised even more.

This is one reason why Raynaud’s can get worse as you get older. Combine the thickening of those arteries with the natural issues of temperature regulation in the elderly and you have a recipe for a very uncomfortable condition[1].

The triggers for Raynaud’s are usually clear. Cold is a definite culprit. This might include being outside in cold air, but it can also be triggered by things that happen in your day-to-day life, such as opening up your freezer to pull out leftovers, putting your hands in cold water, or even picking up a glass that contains ice. Another culprit is stress. Emotional stress can trigger an episode of Raynaud’s and leave you feeling miserable on top of already being upset or anxious.

How Alert1 Can Help When Numbness Hits

The numbness that comes with Raynaud’s can be annoying and concerning. But beyond these issues, it can also put you at greater risk of falls and accidents. When your toes are numb, it can make it tough to feel where you are placing your foot as you walk. This can lead to stumbles and falls. While the logical way to fight this is to not walk around when you are having an attack, this often isn’t feasible, especially if it happens at work or while you are in the middle of something you can’t stop doing, such as cooking an elaborate dish in the kitchen.

For those with Raynaud’s, a medical alert system is an excellent idea. When you feel the numbness start, you can be rest assured that you have help just a button push away if you need it.

The numbness in your hands can also be a problem, and not only because it feels uncomfortable. When any body part is numb, it can be difficult to feel small injuries. For instance, it is not a good idea to use a sharp blade of any sort while you are suffering an attack that leaves your fingers feeling numb. A medical alert pendant can be a great help for you in this situation, as you can press the button to get help the moment an accident occurs.

But what about pressing that button? Can you do that while your hands are numb? Yes, you can. The button on any deice from Alert1 Medical Alert Systems can be pressed easily with a fingertip, even when that fingertip is numb. And it takes only one push to get help fast.

Raynaud’s Might Be a Clue to Underlying Conditions

If you suffer from Raynaud’s, it’s important to remember that this is not a life-threatening condition. It can be uncomfortable and certainly affect your quality of life. To determine just how serious the situation is, it’s important to know which type of Raynaud’s you have: primary or secondary.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, primary Raynaud’s is a bit of a mystery, as it isn’t associated with any other medical condition. It can range from mild to severe. For some people, the symptoms are so mild that they never seek treatment, and it can actually go away on its own. Though primary Raynaud’s can be uncomfortable, it’s not dangerous.

Secondary Raynaud’s is a different story. This is caused by some underlying medical condition. It tends to be more severe and can lead to long-term consequences, including skin ulcers. But even more concerning is the underlying condition, which is likely affecting blood flow to other parts of the body. That’s why it’s so important to visit your doctor if you notice the symptoms of Raynaud’s, so that you can be tested to rule out any underlying problems. Causes of secondary Raynaud’s can include:

·         Carpal tunnel syndrome

·         Connective tissue diseases

·         Artery diseases

·         Smoking

·         Injuries to the hands or feet

·         Repetitive action

·         Operating vibrating tools

·         Medications for conditions such as migraine, high blood pressure, or cancer

While primary Raynaud’s tends to show up in those under the age of 30, secondary Raynaud’s – the more serious kind – is more common among those over the age of 40[2].  Women are affected more often than men, and both men and women in cold climates are at greater risk than those who live in warm climates. A family history of Raynaud’s syndrome can make it more likely you will develop the condition[3].

How to Prevent a Raynaud’s Attack

Since Raynaud’s is usually brought on by cold or stress, learning to avoid those two things can lead to a serious uptick in your quality of life. Here are some tips to do that:

·         If you’re heading outdoors, make sure you are wearing warm layers. Wear a hat and scarf, socks and boots, and mittens or gloves – look for those that are thick and insulated, or layer two thinner pairs. Wear a coat, preferably one with snug cuffs to prevent the cold air from reaching your arms.

·         Make sure your hands are already warmed up inside your gloves before you go outside on a cold day. This extra minute or two of preparation can make a big difference.

·         If Raynaud’s tends to strike your nose, wear a thick face mask that sits against your skin. If the problem tends to be your ears, big fuzzy earmuffs are a must.

·         Warm up your car before you get in it. Use driving gloves to avoid touching a cold steering wheel.

·         Wear thick socks always, even while indoors.

·         Put on gloves or mittens before opening the refrigerator or freezer.

·         Invest in insulated glasses and mugs to keep the chill of cold beverages away from your hands.

·         If you are a smoker, quitting can reduce or even eliminate primary Raynaud’s attacks.

·         Keep up with treatment for underlying conditions. Controlling those conditions might reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.

·         Take steps to control stress. Talk to a therapist about ways to calm down after something stressful happens to you.

·         Speak with your doctor about medications that could be causing primary Raynaud’s disease and ask if there are alternatives available.

·         Avoid caffeine, as this can make the condition worse.

·         Wear wicking fabrics when you exercise to pull the sweat away from the skin. Avoid walking through a stream of air-conditioning when you are sweaty, as this can lead to the sweat cooling on your skin, which can lead to an attack.

If you do suffer an attack of Raynaud’s disease, get to a warm place and do whatever you can to gradually warm up the affected area. Rub your hands together, layer on another pair of socks, use hand warmers, and move around to get the blood pumping. However, never try putting the affected area under hot water or too close to a heat source. The numbness in your hands and feet can lead to serious burn injuries.

While you wait for the feeling to come back to your fingertips and toes, medical alert technology can help you breathe easier. Why? Medical alert wireless systems can provide you with the peace of mind that help is literally one button push away. This can be especially helpful if you have secondary Raynaud’s that is caused by a serious underlying condition. Knowing that you can reach out for help if you begin to feel unwell is a powerful reason to opt for a medical alert button today, before Raynaud’s strikes again.