It’s normal to have cold hands in cool weather, as the fingers and hands tend to be exposed. But if your hands are always cold? This could be a sign of an underlying medical condition. In this blog, we’ll discuss signs as well as treatment options if you have cold hand disease, otherwise known as Raynaud’s disease/syndrome.
Raynaud’s is a disorder of the small blood vessels, causing circulation to the fingertips, or other areas, to be interrupted. When exposed to cold temperatures, blood vessels constrict in the extremities to keep our core, vital organs and brain warm. If someone has Raynaud’s, their body has an exaggerated reaction to cold. Emotional stress may also trigger this type of response. The fingers are usually the main area affected, but the toes, ears and nose may also be affected, as well. Initially, the fingers will quickly turn pale in color, even white or blue, due to decreased blood supply, after cold exposure, or even when washing hands. When the fingers warm up, this can bring on a painful burning sensation, as the fingers become very red in color, as opposed to a normal blotchy red and white pattern when the fingers warm to normal temperature. The periods of discoloration can last from a few minutes to several hours
There are two types of Raynaud’s: primary and secondary. Primary Raynaud’s, is the most common form. It is more common in women, and in colder climates, affecting 5-10% of the population. It is unclear what exactly causes the episodes of color changes, but in this form, there is no long term damage to the fingers or affected area. The other form of Raynaud’s is called secondary Raynaud’s or Raynaud’s syndrome, which is the result of another underlying medical condition affecting the blood vessels, such as damage from prolonged exposure to vibrating tools, frost bite or an autoimmune disorder. Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma, are all autoimmune disorders that can cause Raynaud’s, since they affect the soft tissue of the joints. The visible changes during brief cold exposure, are often the first sign of these underlying medical conditions. Patients with the secondary form of Raynaud’s syndrome, are more likely to have long term damage to the blood vessels. This makes cuts or scrapes more difficult to heal on the fingers, or even leads to sores on the hands, due to lack of circulation.
Fortunately, 90% of person’s with Raynaud’s have the less serious primary form. Treatment is primarily lifestyle changes to limit exposure to cold and to decrease stress to hands. Here are some tips to managing Raynaud’s disease/syndrome:
1. When likely to be exposed to cooler temperatures, double up and wear gloves and mittens. Mittens tend to keep the hands warmer and can be layered over fingered gloves. Finger-less gloves with removable caps for the finger tips are a good option when dexterity is needed or even worn indoors.
2. Keep the body warm with multiple layers of clothing. The Raynaud’s response is provoked when the body becomes too cold, not just your hands. Prevent exposure and maintain warmth by wearing a hat, scarves, and long shirts with thumb and finger openings when cooler temperatures cannot be avoided. Consider arm sleeves to add an additional layer of warmth to the arms.
3. Consider the use of hand/foot warmers. These are small, portable products that can be activated by squeezing a pouch, causing a chemical reaction, creating lasting heat. They are thin and can fit in gloves or shoes to keep hands and feet warm. They can be purchased at big box stores, hardware stores or online in bulk. They can provide several hours of warmth when exposure cannot be avoided. Larger warmers can also be made at home by filling sock with dry uncooked rice, field corn or buckwheat. Tie off the end and place in the microwave for a minute or two. Be careful removing, as they could be excessively warm.
4. Avoid handling cold objects or wear gloves when this cannot be avoided. Use insulated cups for cool drinks to prevent your hands from being exposed to the cold temperature.
5. Avoid dehydration. The body limits blood flow to the skin when it is not adequately hydrated. Water in the body holds in heat. The body will cool more quickly in a cool environment if one is dehydrated. Avoid consuming alcohol when exposure is anticipated, as this can lead to increased dehydration.
6. When upgrading vehicles, consider options like seat and hand warmers to provide warmth. If your vehicle does not have a remote start, this feature can be added after market, with a relatively low cost. This will avoid becoming cold, while waiting for your vehicle to warm in the cold months.
7. Managing stress can help to decrease severity or frequency of symptoms. Blood vessels narrow in response to stressful situations. Ways to manage stress include meditating, exercising, and breathing deeply from your belly, which will help to raise the body’s temperature. Short walks, jumping jacks, running in place, lunges or quick arm movements will increase circulation to avoid symptoms. Avoid smoking as this only further narrows blood vessels, compromising the circulatory system further.
If you are unable to manage symptoms with these suggestions, talk with an Athletico Hand Therapist who is well-versed in treating this condition. Our experts can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle, while keeping your hands comfortable and warm.
“Cold Weather Tips for Raynaud’s | The Hand Society.” ASSH, 14 Dec. 2020, https://www.assh.org/handcare/blog/advice-from-a-certified-hand-therapist-cold-weather-tips-for-raynauds.
Ekkehard, Bonatz. “What Is Raynaud’s Disease? | The Hand Society.” ASSH, 7 Sept. 2020, https://www.assh.org/handcare/blog/what-is-raynauds-disease.
Hite, Stacy. “Hand Surgery Information And Surgeon Database.” ASSH, 18 Jan. 2017, https://www.assh.org/handcare.
“Raynaud’s Association – Provide Support and Education to the Millions of Sufferers of Raynaud’s Phenomenon.” Raynaud’s Association, https://www.raynauds.org/. Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.