Why Do My Hands Turn Blue?

fingers turn white

Why Do My Hands And Fingers Turn Blue In The Cold?

Is poor circulation causing my fingers to go blue? Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition that affects the circulation in the blood vessels supplying the skin. It occurs when the tiny blood vessels supplying the skin of the fingers and feet become constricted (spasm) in response to heat, cold or other stimuli.

red fingers

It is a very common condition that can occur at all ages, but it's much more common in women. It is estimated that one in 20 of the population suffers from it, and about 10 per cent of women in the U.S. have it to some degree. You might first notice it in the winter months, beginning in your teens and twenties - your fingers go icy cold and turn white. Sometimes they then turn blue, and then because the vessels open up again, they get a surge of blood and turn red. Accompanying this, you get numbness, tingling and pain. It's generally the hands that are affected by Raynaud's, occasionally the feet and less so the nose, ear lobes or even your nipples and tongue.

Is It Dangerous?

In 90 per cent of cases, Raynaud's is not a sign of any underlying problem with your circulation. It implies that the tiny blood vessels supplying your skin are oversensitive. In its most common form, Raynaud's does not usually cause any mischief, although it can be the source of a lot of annoyance. In about one in 10 cases, Raynaud's is the sign of an underlying autoimmune disorder like scleroderma, Sjogren syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. In this instance, the symptoms will usually start later life, so the first sign of a circulatory problem may not be until your 30s. The form of Raynaud's associated with a disease tends to follow the path of that disorder and may lead to gangrene and ulcers of the affected areas due to severe problems with the circulation.

Can Raynaud's Be Treated?

A drug called nifedipine (usually given to treat angina and chest pain) can sometimes be used. This opens up blood vessels, and by improving the circulation it improves the symptoms. Because it opens up all the blood vessels and not just the ones affected by Raynaud's, it causes dizziness, headaches and flushing in 75 per cent of those who take it, so the treatment may prove worse than the disorder. Other blood pressure drugs such as ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers have also been tried, but the response is very individual. With any drug, you should try them for at least a fortnight as you often become tolerant to their side-effects.

Remember that medications aren't a cure, and you still need to wrap up. Ideally, taking precautions to prevent exposure to extreme cold or heat is the best bet. Wear gloves - indoors as well if you need to. Keep the whole body, and not just the affected areas, warm. You can buy mini heat packs if your symptoms are very severe. Avoid getting food out of the freezer or de-icing the car in the mornings. Stop smoking and exercise more, both of which improve blood flow.

Too Cold For Comfort?

Although this condition is common, see your doctor if you feel your symptoms are excessive and you really can't warm up. Make a diary of your symptoms and the specific temperatures and activities that are affected. Mention any female relatives similarly affected, both past and present. Also let the doctor know of any family history of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or other joint disorders. Your doctor will order a blood test and may refer you to a specialist if they feel your problem is due to an underlying disease.

Tips

• If your hands need a quick warm-up, soak them in warm water.
• Smoking outdoors can reduce your body temperature by 1C for a full 20 minutes. So stop smoking or suffer!

• Got another question? See: Womens Health Questions

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WOMENS HEALTH ADVICE: ABOUT QUESTIONS ON CIRCULATION HEALTH
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