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Cold feet can be a protective mechanism and not always a bad thing. When you are cold your autonomic system redirects blood flow away from your extremities, ears and nose. Your body wants to maintain your core temperature. This is how your auto pilot system is intended to work.
But what if your body’s temperature regulation overreacts. Cold temperatures will make your feet and hands grow cold. This may also occur when temperatures are absolutely comfortable and your toes and fingers go frozen. What if the same thing happens when you’re stressed out? Or if it happens to cause pain or numbness as well?
If any of the symptoms above describe you in any way, you should absolutely come to see us for an examination. Raynaud’s syndrome (or a related condition) could be involved.
What is Raynaud’s Syndrome?
Raynaud’s syndrome (also referred to as Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s disease – they’re all the same thing) is a condition where the body overreacts to certain changes. Ambient temperature is the most significant influence but stress, emotions, and some drugs will turn the switch on. You can think of it as the body’s natural thermostat set a little different than everyone else. It can be a beautiful 68 degree evening and your family and friends are in hog heaven. Someone with Raynaud’s will be shivering and with their hands stuffed in their armpits or between their legs wishing for warm gloves and stockings.
In very cold conditions, the body should shift into “survival mode”. The peripheral blood vessels will constrict in the extremities so the warmer blood stays in the center of your body. This is a life protective response. But people with Raynaud’s may have this response when the body is not actually in danger.
Even minor changes in temperature can cause an episode of blood vessel constriction. Sometimes, temperature doesn’t have to change at all. Factors such as stress can be the culprit.
Symptoms of Raynaud’s can include:
- Cold toes, fingers, ears, and nose.
- Color changes in the skin. The skin color will be pale, deathly white from lack of blood, to blue from lack of oxygen, and then red as blood flow is restored. A very patriotic look.
- Numbness, potentially followed by a prickly feeling, or tingling sensation, that will become a stinging pain once your toes and fingers warm back up.
Raynaud’s can be quite uncomfortable and be damaging in certain situations. It can present with a wide spectrum of symptoms. Although it is rare, an extreme case can stop blood flow like a tourniquet that is tightly applied. However, even milder cases can increase your risks of frostbite if you are in actual cold conditions.
You can expect to see these changes on the right and left sides as well as in the hands and feet. There can be a very selective area of vessel constriction that can be limited to just several digits. The end of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th fingers can turn white while the 1st and 2nd flingers appear more normal in color.