If you’ve ever stood outside in winter, breathing hot air onto your hands while your friends seem unbothered, you’ll know what it’s like to feel the cold more than most.
So why do some people’s hands and feet feel like blocks of ice sometimes, but not others?
It could just be a sensitivity to cooler temperatures, but there’s also a medical condition called Raynaud’s disease that results in icy hands and feet.
What is Raynaud’s disease?
Raynaud’s disease disrupts blood flow to a person’s hands and feet, causing their extremities to become uncomfortably cold.
“Raynaud’s is an exaggeration of a normal response to cold,” Dr Fred Wigley, a rheumatology specialist from America’s Johns Hopkins Hospital told 9Honey Coach.
“It affects on average three to five percent of the population, but it can be as high as 12 to 15 percent among young women.”
Dr Wigley said there are signs a doctor should look for to diagnose Raynaud’s.
“Firstly, if a person says they are more sensitive to cold than the average person. The next thing is if a person witnesses colour changes on the skin of their fingers.”
“In a typical Raynaud’s event, the patient will have a white discoloration because there is no blood flow to the skin, and they’ll then have a blue coloration due to some congestion of the blood in the fingers,” Wigley explained.
“They will also get a blush in recovery when the artery’s little blood vessels open up.”
This condition, called primary Raynaud’s, while uncomfortable, isn’t anything to be concerned about.
“It’s an annoyance, but it doesn’t reach the level of pain and isn’t associated with breakdown of the skin, open sores or with any other health problem.”
However, there’s also secondary Raynaud’s, which tends to develop suddenly rather than in the teens or twenties like primary Raynaud’s, and is more severe.
“Secondary Raynaud’s can be dangerous because the blood vessels are damaged.
“It can lead to sores on the fingers or even amputation of the finger if it is severe enough, and it can be associated with systemic diseases.”
How to treat Raynaud’s disease
The number one trigger for Raynaud’s is, you guessed it, the cold.
Wearing gloves or thick socks will help, but it’s also important to raise your core temperature by putting on extra layers of clothing.
“Keep your whole body warm, because if you sense cold it’ll trigger Raynaud’s,” explained Wigley.
Anxiety is another cause of Raynaud’s, so it might be an idea to keep a diary of when your hands and feet feel particularly cold to see if it’s linked to stress.
As for secondary Raynaud’s, you’ll need a doctor’s help to determine the cause and a strategy for managing it, and you may be prescribed a vasodilator medication.
“Some medications, such as ADHD and cancer drugs, and conditions including thyroid disorder, can cause bad cases of Raynaud’s,” Wigley said.
“Trauma to the fingers, such as the use of tools like jackhammers and saws, may also cause it.”
So how do you know if you need to see a doctor, or just rug up a bit more?
“If it’s so striking that it’s affecting the quality of your life, and if a person experiences those dramatic colour changes, I think that they should see a doctor,” Wigley said.