I’ve wanted to write a post on Raynaud’s Phenomenon for ages! Looks like The Wellcome Trust beat me to it though, so I thought I’d share this blog post from The Wellcome Trust with my readers. Raynaud’s is a condition in which the fingers (and sometimes toes) of an affected individual become a very pale colour when cold, sort of like when you press down on a small patch of skin for a while, and it becomes temporarily pale (try it now!), but of course this lasts much longer, often accompanied by pain or numbness. As fingers and toes go back to normal, this sometimes painful or “tingly”. If this happens for long enough, fingers or toes can then turn blue, due to lack of oxygen. As someone who this happens to, I remember being really confused when my hands would go this weird incredibly pale colour and feel really odd when it’s cold, then take ages to warm up before going back to normal, and only realised why it happens when a biology teacher mentioned it!
Raynaud’s is still a bit of a puzzle to scientists (well, it certainly was to my biology teacher when I tried to quiz him about it). They’re not quite sure what it is that makes this happen to some people’s fingers and even toes, but it seems to be an extreme response to the cold. Normally, when we feel cold and our body temperature is in danger of dropping, our body uses a mechanism to protect vital organs from losing heat. Part of this response is to constrict blood vessels close to the skin, so that less blood passes through them and hence less heat can escape from the blood, and out of our skin, and out of our bodies. This is why we can look quite pale when we’re cold. The blood vessels in our hands and feet are also constricted. In Raynaud’s this response occurs in a more extreme way, allowing even less blood than normal to the affected areas. This is the reason for the extreme pale colour in Raynaud’s sufferers.
This condition is often inherited, and can be part of a pre-existing condition, or sometimes just occurs on its own. It isn’t inherently harmful under ordinary circumstances, but in extreme cold temperatures it can heighten the risk of frostbite. Because there is less blood in the fingers and toes, these cool much quicker than other body parts, and temperatures can drop low enough even to allow frostbite to occur in these areas (something I had no idea about until I spoke to my biology teacher – now that’s just another thing I have to be paranoid about!).
If you have the condition, it’s recommended that you talk to a doctor, just to see if there is any pre-existing condition it could be indicative of. Take a look at the information and image provided by The Wellcome Trust below (not my work).
Handily (do you see what we did there?) this week’s image, ‘Raynaud’s Phenomenon’, coincides with Raynaud’s awareness month 2015. The image is a thermogram- or thermal image – and shows the hand of a person experiencing symptoms of Raynaud’s next to one from a person who is unaffected.
Do you have any idea which is which?
Raynaud’s phenomenon (also referred to as Raynaud’s syndrome or Raynaud’s disease) affects the bodily extremities, most commonly the hands and feet. On exposure to cold or stress, the blood vessels at the extremities constrict, restricting the flow of blood, this is called vasoconstriction. When this happens in the hand, fingers will often be seen to change colour, becoming very pale as less blood reaches the surface of the skin. The reduction of warm blood flowing through these areas results in less radiation of heat from the affected area – as seen in…
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