Healthy Living

Are you really sensitive to cold? Raynaud's syndrome could be to blame for numbness, pain

People who struggle with Raynaud's syndrome can have their fingers or toes temporarily turn white due to restricted bloo
People who struggle with Raynaud’s syndrome can have their fingers or toes temporarily turn white due to restricted blood flow when exposed to cold conditions resulting in numbness and pain. (Gazette file photo)

The trouble began with a finger.

When Sarah Braun, 42, of Cedar Rapids, noticed her right ring finger felt numb one winter, she didn’t think much about it. But as winter continued, her still numb finger turned white and felt painful when exposed to the cold.

Over the next 10 years, the condition spread to all of her fingers and toes.

“Every year I added a finger,” Braun said. “If I’m in where it’s warm and go outside, that’s when it starts. Or even going from my warm bed to the chilly house. It starts with the top of my fingers and moves down. They feel numb and cold to the touch. When I grip the steering wheel or a shovel, it feels like stabbing pain.”

Braun, a data analyst at Collins Aerospace, has Raynaud’s syndrome, a condition where the small arteries in one’s fingers or toes narrow in response to cold temperatures. This can limit blood circulation and cause numbness or tingling in one’s hands and feet.

For some, it’s an isolated condition. For Braun, it’s an underlying autoimmune response that’s part of her rheumatoid arthritis.

Braun tried taking nifedipine, a calcium channel blocker that opens blood vessels, but she experienced headaches as a side effect.

So she has learned to manage the syndrome in other ways.

For starters, she makes sure she wears warm clothes, especially gloves.

“I go on an annual trek to find gloves that might stop it, but I haven’t found ones that work 100 percent yet,” she said.

She has a heated steering wheel in her Jeep.

If she’s shoveling snow or working outside, she’ll take frequent breaks so she can go inside and warm her hands and feet.

And if she’s going to be handling food from the freezer, she wears gloves.

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“I was grabbing an ice pack out of the freezer the other day, and it hurt like grabbing something sharp,” Braun said.

Women are more likely than men to develop Raynaud’s syndrome. About 4 percent of the population has some form of the syndrome, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. It can be treated with medication, but other people — like Braun — learn to manage it. Check with your doctor if you show symptoms.

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