Do your fingers ever feel painful and numb? Have you noticed your toes sometimes turn a strange shade of blue or white?
If so, you may be suffering from Raynaud's. It's an incredibly common condition - but sufferers often don't know they have it.
Raynaud's (pronounced Ray-nose) affects 1 in 6 people in the UK, yet many people have never heard of it. It's a response to cold or stress and can cause pain and numbness in the affected areas.
The symptoms can be painful and might feel similar to rheumatoid arthritis, but there are ways to ease the condition. Here are six things you should know to help you cope with Raynaud's.
1) Raynaud's isn't the same as poor circulation
It's true that Raynaud's affects your blood circulation. But the two aren't the same thing. Poor circulation generally means that your blood doesn't flow as efficiently as it should around your body. If you have Raynaud's, your blood vessels narrow more than usual in response to the cold, in order to keep your core warm.
People with Raynaud's are more sensitive to changes in temperature and as a result, less blood flows to their extremities (or the affected area). This is what causes the numbness.
2) Raynaud's can affect different parts of the body
It's most common in fingers and toes, but it can also affect the nose, ears, and nipples. During an attack of Raynaud's, the affected areas may change colour and look white or blue.
Other symptoms include pain, numbness, pins and needles, and difficulty moving the affected area. They can last from a few minutes to a few hours.
3) Raynaud's can be triggered by a number of things
Exposure to the cold or a sudden change in temperature are the most common causes of an attack. This could be anything from being outside in cold weather to holding a cold glass or getting something out of the freezer.
Raynaud's can also be triggered by your hormones, and strong emotions like stress and anxiety.
4) Raynaud's is more common in women than in men
Experts aren't sure why the condition is more common in women. In fact, they're not sure what causes the condition. There's some evidence that it may be genetic, as Raynaud's has been known to run in families.
Most people with Raynaud's have primary Raynaud's. This is where the condition occurs on its own, without being linked to another health condition. Secondary Raynaud's, which is when the condition occurs with another disease like scleroderma, is more complex.
5) There are ways to manage the symptoms
The best way to reduce the severity of your symptoms is to keep your body and your extremities warm. Wear warm clothes and keep your hands and feet covered, especially when outdoors.
Avoid tight clothing, and make sure you change out of wet shoes and socks straight away. Taking steps to improve your overall circulation, like exercising and stopping smoking, can also help. And of course, when you're at home during the colder times of year, it's important to stay warm. For more tips on this, take a look at our useful guide to getting help with heating costs over the winter.
6) Most of the time, Raynaud's is nothing to worry about
The symptoms can be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but they usually aren't serious. If Raynaud's is affecting your daily life or you think it's getting worse, consider visiting your GP.
They may prescribe a medicine called nifedipine, which helps improve your circulation. You might also need to have a blood test, to check for a more serious condition like rheumatoid arthritis.
Read more: Improve your circulation in 7 easy steps
Read more: 5 simple exercises you can do sitting down