Health

'My fingers feel like they've been trapped in a door'

Alison Wright, Raynaud's sufferer
Image caption Alison has learned to live with the pain of Raynaud's

Cold weather is not pleasant for anyone - but it can be absolute agony for people with Raynaud's syndrome.

Sufferers experience their fingers (and often their toes) going white, then blue, as the extremities of the body seize up when they become starved of blood.

An attack is often caused by cold winter temperatures, but can also be triggered by wandering past the freezer cabinets in a supermarket.

"The first time, my fingers turned white in a slight breeze on a summer's day," said Alison Wright, 39.

She went to her doctor who diagnosed Raynaud's. That was six years ago and she has suffered regular "attacks" ever since.

It is particularly bad in winter, when it's cold - and this is when sufferers like Alison experience a lot of pain.

"My fingers can be white and painful every minute of the day in winter.

"It's a combination of pain and numbness, like trapping your finger in a door - except it affects every finger," she says.

Cold to the touch

The symptoms are due to a lack of blood reaching the periphery of the body, caused by the arteries contracting spasmodically.

This can be triggered by touching cold objects or exposure to cold of any kind.

A slight change in temperature, even during the summer, can cause the body to react.

Raynaud's is thought to affect up to 20% of the adult population worldwide and there may be as many as 10m sufferers in the UK.

The condition is most commonly found in women, and approximately 10% of women in the UK suffer from Raynaud's to some degree.

Many sufferers have never seen a doctor as they are unaware that their condition has a name or that there is anything that can be done to help.

Alison says she has learned to live with the pain.

Image caption Alison's hands can stay white and numb all day during winter

"I have got used to it. It does reduce me to tears sometimes, but I have learned to manage it and I don't want it to get the better of me."

"The worst thing you can do is put your hands on a radiator after an attack," she says.

"I have to warm up my hands and feet very slowly and gently once they've gone white, but they can stay that way all day."

When she was first diagnosed, Alison tried a variety of medicines to help improve her circulation and keep the blood vessels dilated.

Blood flow

But some of these caused complications and adverse reactions.

Instead, she now uses hand-warmers, silk liners and thick socks to try to stave off any attacks.

Getting money out of her purse with numb fingers or picking up cold milk bottles are everyday frustrations which she endures.

And she has given up on skiing.

But she does exercise by go swimming and teach pilates - something the Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association recommends.

Exercise helps to keep your skin flexible and maintains better blood flow, says the association, which also advises sufferers to maintain a healthy diet and wear plenty of thin layers of clothing rather than one thick layer.

The association also warns against smoking as "just one cigarette can reduce the body temperature by one degree over a 20 minute period".

Alison's favourite coping mechanism is a regular winter holiday in the sun.

"It's great to know I can escape the cold for a week or two," she says.

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