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Hands showing whitened fingers due to Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud’s Disease

Now that the weather has turned (much) colder in Minnesota, my swollen and inflamed joints are happier thanks to the cool, dry weather. The heat and especially the humidity of summer usually inflict severe misery on my joints and overall health. Chilly fall and winter weather is always a welcome change for me and my body. Except for one uncomfortable and annoying condition that I often forget that I have: Raynaud’s disease.

What is Raynaud’s disease?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Raynaud’s disease (also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon or syndrome) causes some areas of your body—such as your fingers and toes—to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud’s disease, smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas (vasospasm).”1

Not just numb digits

Raynaud’s isn’t simply a matter of numb fingers and toes, but it can also change the appearance and color of the afflicted digits. The tips of fingers (sometimes nearly the entire finger) can turn a disturbing shade of white and look and feel like creepy, dead appendages. The cold-numb feeling also isn’t just an annoyance, but it can be quite uncomfortable and almost painful–especially if you’re trying to do something (writing, opening things, driving).

Experiencing symptoms of Raynaud’s disease

One day a few weeks ago the temperature dropped abnormally low, even for Minnesota, and I was walking around in my cold house barefoot. I’m usually barefoot if it’s not arctic-cold because my painful RA feet and ankles are sensitive and don’t like socks. On this day, however, socks proved to be necessary as I suddenly felt the familiar dull, numb pangs of Raynaud’s disease attack my feet.

Those familiar symptoms appeared

I couldn’t feel three of my toes anymore. I bent over and peered at my right foot. Yep, the ghostly toes were back: strange, solid-white things sucked of all life.How annoying. I tried to jab my toes into the carpet and I was met with rock-solid numbness. Then I quickly grabbed a pair of socks and rubbed my feet, trying to warm up and get some blood flowing again. It took quite a while for my toes to return to normal.

So what does all of this have to do with RA? There is a connection, I swear.

Is Raynaud’s disease connected to rheumatoid arthritis?

While Raynaud’s isn’t an autoimmune disease, people who have chronic, autoimmune diseases (such as RA, lupus, scleroderma) are more likely to develop it. Also similar to RA, more women get the disease than men do. And, as with autoimmune diseases, there is no exact known cause of Raynaud’s disease–nor a cure.

How does Raynaud’s occur?

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine: Raynaud’s can occur on its own, known as primary form. Or it may happen along with other diseases, known as secondary form. The diseases most often linked with Raynaud’s are autoimmune or connective tissue diseases such as:

  • Lupus (systemic lupus erythematous)
  • Scleroderma
  • CREST syndrome (a form of scleroderma)
  • Buerger disease
  • Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Occlusive vascular disease, such as atherosclerosis
  • Polymyositis
  • Blood disorders, such as Cryoglobulinemia
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Pulmonary hypertension2

The primary form of Raynaud’s is the most common type. It often begins between ages 15 and 25 and it’s less severe than secondary Raynaud’s. People with primary Raynaud’s do not often develop a related condition.

Raynaud’s came years after my RA diagnosis

Interestingly, I developed Raynaud’s myself a couple years after being diagnosed with RA. I was probably around age 20-21, I think. And while my Raynaud’s “attacks” have always been fairly mild, my younger sister gets pretty severe ones. She does not have RA, yet she has an autoimmune thyroid condition (Hashimoto’s disease) and developed Raynaud’s around age 19. This makes me assume that we both have the primary form of Raynaud’s, despite also living with autoimmune diseases.

Risk factors of Raynaud’s disease

According to Johns Hopkins, there are certain factors that can increase one’s risk of developing Raynaud’s disease, such as:

  • A connective tissue or autoimmune disease
  • Chemical exposure
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Injury or trauma
  • Repetitive actions, such as typing or use of tools that vibrate like a jack hammer
  • Side effects from certain medicines2

Learn more about Raynaud’s disease

If you have Raynaud’s or you just want to read more about it, the two sources I used for this article, from The Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins, have even more detailed information on their websites (symptoms, risk factors, possible causes, treatment). There are other great sources online too, of course.

Most of the time, I forget that I even have Raynaud’s disease, except when it decides to randomly attack my fingers and toes. And now that it’s been happening again lately, I wonder: Who else with RA has this condition? I’m curious to know! What’s yours like? Mild, moderate, severe? Do you get what I mean when I mention the “ghostly toes” and the strange, numb feeling?

If you are struggling with this irritating cold-weather condition, hang in there, because I’m dealing with it too. You’re not alone. And make sure that you stock up on plenty of gloves and warm socks this winter!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Raynaud's disease. (2017, October 31). Retrieved January 8, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/raynauds-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20363571.
  2. Raynaud's Phenomenon. (n.d.). Retrieved January 8, 2020, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/raynauds-phenomenon.

Comments

  • Wyolady
    4 weeks ago

    I also suffer from Raynauds and have RA. The ghastly ghostly fingers and toes are painful ( stinging, numb, burning) and scary to look at. If my Raynauds isn’t severe, my digits turn purple, which I’m hardly aware of but others are. My massage therapist totally scared me one day by screaming that my fingers were purple! Mine developed also about 2 years after my RA diagnosis and is much worse in winter (I live in Wyoming). Poor circulation in extremeties can cause all sorts of problems; slow healing times and infection being two of the worst. Keep those fingers and toes warm!

  • Cyd
    1 month ago

    I figured I may as well join in our own little version of “me too!” (Not to diminish the original in any way!). I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia about 6 years ago, a year later came the RA diagnosis and then a plethora of other illnesses & disorders including Raynaud’s. I’m lucky though, I can count on one [cold] hand the times either my fingers or toes turned white. Mine are frequently blue however, and always cold! Even in a hot, humid St. Louis summer, I wear socks and fleece lined house shoes. My husband thinks he can turn the A/C up and save a few bucks because I sit in my chair with my heavy-sock clad feet wrapped in fleece blankets. The joke’s on him. I’m sure you all know, such is not the case! Just because my feet & hands are cold, doesn’t mean the rest of me is. Keep it warm!

  • Runnergirl
    1 month ago

    I have had Raynaud’s since I was 13 and am now 46. It is both in my hands and feet. It can be triggered easily, just by being in the freezer section at the grocery store. My mother and son both have it is well but not as severe as mine. I was diagnosed with RA about a 18 months ago. The vasodilator meds help a little but not much.

  • suri613
    1 month ago

    i’ve had raynaud’s for quite a number of years. i also have both RA and hashimotos. my fingers do turn a “ghostly white” as yours do and feel numb and tingly. very uncomfortable, to say the least! sometimes it lasts for hours, sometimes for days. i’ve never had it in my thumbs and i don’t think i ever had it in my pinkies. my fingers and toes are always cold but not always ghostly white and tingly. the strange thing is that i also get the raynoud’s symptoms in the summer, and not just when it’s cold out. i surely empathize with you.

  • RHPass
    1 month ago

    Angela, you have my sympathy. As I sit here with one numb,cold foot and purple fingertips with red nail beds…..I hear your message loud and clear. My Raynaud’s knows no season though. Winter is infinitely worse for sure. I have a large heating pad for my feet, fleece mittens for my hands and a smile on my face! It is a shame that sometimes we are reduced to a pile of symptoms and guesswork. RA is quite a journey!

  • CheriB
    1 month ago

    I was diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease about 5 years ago at age 65–late bloomer. I wear socks and shoes in the house.
    Several times week, in the evening, I soak my feet in warm water, gently massage them, dry and apply vicks vaporub and wear light socks to bed.

  • vislandale
    1 month ago

    I bought motorcycle gloves. They are warmer than department store gloves and it helps a great deal. I have RA and Sjogren’s plus the Reynaud’s. I don’t leave the house without them in the cooler weather and wear them in the supermarket. I don’t live in as cold a climate as you, but I also bought a couple of pairs of Canadian arctic boots and I wear them with a cashmere blend sock. It’s the dampness and wind that do me in. The warmer drier weather is my friend!

  • meatball
    1 month ago

    I too have Raynauds Disease along with RA. I have had Raynauds since my early 20’s. I am now 67. I was diagnosed with RA 4 yrs. ago, although I believe I have had it closer to 20 years.

    My hands and fingers also turn that cold ghostly white. My fingers are quite shriveled and my finger tips have very little feeling. Same with my toes. They sometimes get totally numb.

    I do no take any medication for the RA although my hands are severely affected. In the winter I take 30mg. of Procardia (a vasodilator) for the Raynauds. It does help somewhat. Better than nothing on those extremely cold winter days.

    Meatball

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    1 month ago

    My story of Raynaud’s is different. (Is anyone surprised? LOL!) I complained of the symptoms to my PCP, and he told me it couldn’t be Raynaud’s because my fingers and toes didn’t change color. So I suffered.
    Once I started seeing my rheumatologist, I complained to him as well. He asked me to describe the feeling. I told him I felt like my finger and toe bones were made of ice. He then informed me that I do have Raynaud’s. Why no color change? Because I’m already on calcium channel blockers and blood vessel vasodilators for my coronary artery spasm.

    There are medication treatments for Raynaud’s. Whether your MD will prescribe them depends upon your condition.

    I always wear gloves, socks, scarves and hats in the winter. Because of the vasodilators, I am much more sensitive to temperature changes. Cold weather is harder on my RA than warm weather.

    Thanks for the article Angela.

    Mary Sophia Hawks, Rheumatoidarthritis.net Moderator/Author

  • DeeU
    1 month ago

    I was diagnosed with Raynauds in 1998. I was told it was severe by a Vascular Surgeon. I don’t have spells, mine is constant my nails are gray and I have modeling on the upper parts on my fingers and my full toes. My skin around my toenails has had ulcers due to the Raynauds. I take Cialis daily to help with blood flow. Since starting this I’ve not had any ulcers. My RA stated 5 years ago. I started Orencia infusions for my RA along with methotrexate injections and plaquenil. I also was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and vasculitis when I was dx with RA. I’m an autoimmune disaster.

  • Sarahparsons1119
    1 month ago

    I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and Raynauds as well. It’s horrible enough to experience RA nevermind it’s additional diseases aka Raynauds. I hate the cold because frostbite happens so fast . It’s harder for me to find gloves (that keep my fingers warm and dry) then it is boots. My ugg boots are seriously the only shoes that keep my feet warm.
    My hands struggles , toes turn blue , fingers turn beet red and burn to the
    Point of tears then sometimes parts of my fingers are numb and bright white like someone sucked the blood out of them.

  • DeeU
    1 month ago

    I wore mittens when we lived up north in the cold and they sell Raynauds socks that kept my feet warm. I typed in Raynauds socks on Amazon.

  • ckbarkved
    1 month ago

    Yes I have both RA and Raynauds. I think it is primary, because my mother has it and one of my daughters has it too. For most of my life I didn’t think about it too much, as it happened infrequently and only in winter. But I have noticed now in my 60’s that my fingers and toes turn white and lifeless more frequently. As well, it started happening every time I got in the pool or the lake, or even if I got chilled by a cool summer breeze. My doctor suggested I wear wool socks all the time which chases helped. I wear fingerless hand warmers when it’s winter also. It was getting bad that my rheumatologist finally prescribed some medicine for me, and that has helped me tremendously. At least I can get in the water now, all year round. It’s still dicey in the winter. I was told that each attack leaves scar tissue in my blood vessels, making the next attack if white ghost fingers and toes, more likely to happen.

  • jdaph
    1 month ago

    Yes, Ive had Reynauds for many years, and at one point it had gotton so bad my toes would turn black,, also have had fibromyalgia , rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis , and severe anemia for decades,, I believe its all connected.

  • anniecatb
    1 month ago

    I also have Raynaud’s and although it is at its worst in the winter I am also the crazy woman in the supermarket in the summer wearing gloves as a simple touch of something cold can cause ghost fingers. I find the best way to make them go away is to fill a small bowl with warm/hot water and soak my fingers. My fingers change from white to purple to dark blue and are quite painful until they return to normal. Thankfully, although my feet are always cold I haven’t had to deal with ghost toes, yet, lol!

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    1 month ago

    Thank you for the education Angela. Thankfully I do not have to worry with Raynaud’s. I hope the winter treats you kind. Spring is coming. lets hope ti gets here sooner than later. 🙂

    rick – moderator

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