WE often use the phrase “cold hands, warm heart” as a term of endearment, but for the estimated ten million people in the UK who suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome, this may be received with less amusement.

Yet despite the condition being as common as hay fever, a poll of 2,000 individuals by the Charity Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK found that less than five per cent of those interviewed were aware of the disease or could identify its symptoms.

Raynaud’s phenomenon is due to narrowing of the small blood vessels near the surface of the skin in response to cold.

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It is most commonly seen in the hands and feet, but can also affect the ears, nose, tongue and even nipples. Involved areas turn blue and sometimes purple or black, before becoming red when the person returns to a warm environment.

These sudden changes cause pain, numbness, pins and needles and if the hands are involved, difficulty in doing simple tasks, such as fastening or undoing a button.

While episodes may only last a few minutes with mild symptoms, for some, the disability can linger for hours with the pain being intense.

In addition to adverse weather, handling items such as cold drinks or ice cream may trigger an attack, as can bouts of stress and anxiety.

There are two types of Raynaud’s; termed primary and secondary. Primary affects 90 per cent of sufferers and no underlying cause is found. Typically the only symptoms are those of pain in response to changes in temperature.

Secondary Raynaud’s which thankfully is much rarer, is due to a connective tissue disorder, such as Scleroderma, Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus.

Often sufferers with secondary Raynaud’s will have more severe symptoms as well as complaints other than cold hands and feet that will point healthcare professionals towards this diagnosis.

MANAGING the condition is very dependent on how badly you are affected. If you are struggling with pain and disability, I would certainly advise a routine visit to your regular GP, for advice and support.

A medication called Nifedipine may be prescribed, which works by opening up the small blood vessels that typically narrow in response to the cold.

If your doctor feels that your symptoms may be due to secondary Raynaud’s, blood tests can be ordered to look for the associated connective tissue diseases.

If the thought of medication doesn’t appeal, or you feel your symptoms are less severe, there are many self-help measures that can be employed first.

As well as your hands and feet, aim to keep your whole body warm. Using multiple layers of thin clothing which traps hot air between them is preferable to one thick garment.

Regular exercise will improve the circulation to your whole body. Stopping smoking is vitally important as this is one of the biggest risk factors for developing poor circulation.

If stress brings on your symptoms it may be worth trying relaxation techniques as well as avoiding excess consumption of coffee or energy drinks, which sometime prevent you from winding down.

For more information on the condition, see the websites: