Occuring predominantly in women, this condition affects the fingers (and sometimes toes, nose, and ears), causing them to become cold and turn white, then bluish in color. Upon rewarming, the area becomes red and may throb or tingle, a sequence of events presumably caused by spasm in the local blood vessels.
The condition has two forms:
Raynaud's phenomenon is associated with connective tissue diseases like scleroderma or lupus, smoking, certain medications, injury, and blood vessel disease.
Raynaud's disease is the more common "primary" form. There is no known cause.
Cold temperatures and stress tend to bring on attacks in both forms.
Warming from the inside, out
Many people with either form of Raynaud's also have low blood levels of vitamin D. Since vitamin D has a relaxing effect on smooth muscle that lines the blood vessels, and may inhibit substances that cause blood vessel constriction, researchers in Lebanon sought to determine if supplementation might help relieve Raynaud's symptoms.
Forty-two vitamin D-deficient people took part in the study. They were given 600,000 IU of vitamin D3 or a placebo at the beginning of the study, after four weeks, and after eight weeks. At each stage, people reported the degree to which they tolerated their Raynaud's symptoms. Vitamin D levels were retested after 12 weeks, with these results:
Compared with the placebo group, after 12 weeks vitamin D levels were significantly higher in the group that supplemented vitamin D.
After eight weeks, symptoms were significantly improved in people in the vitamin D group, compared with baseline levels.
There was no notable change in Raynaud's symptoms in the placebo group.
The authors cautioned that more studies are needed to confirm these results and to determine an optimal vitamin D dose for treating Raynaud's.
If you have Raynaud's
Besides getting more vitamin D, try these tips to help decrease the frequency and severity of Raynaud's attacks:
- Don't smoke. Besides being a major risk factor for several different cancers, smoking constricts blood vessels and can make Raynaud's worse. Caffeine can also have this effect, so try to limit your consumption.
- Get some exercise. Physical activity improves blood flow and may relieve Raynaud's symptoms.
- Give niacin a try. A form of the B vitamin, niacin, called inositol hexaniacinate may help ease Raynaud's in some people.
- Picture this. Since emotional stress can bring on an attack, try deep breathing and imagine that your hands are becoming warmer.
(Rheumatol Int 2013; DOI 10.1007/s00296-012-2445-x)