Do you often experience numb, white fingers when it’s cold outside?
This is a problem that’s frequently caused by an overreaction of the blood vessels in the hands to cold temperatures – a condition known as Raynaud’s syndrome.
What causes Raynaud’s – and should you be concerned if you have it?
What is Raynaud’s Syndrome and why does it cause numb, white fingers?
Raynaud’s syndrome affects up to eight percent of the population and is more common in women.
Normally when the hands and fingers are exposed to cold, the blood vessels constrict to help hold on to heat. In people with Raynaud’s syndrome, this constriction is so pronounced that it causes the fingers to turn white and become tingly.
People with Raynaud’s experience white, numb fingers not only when their hands are exposed to cold, but also when they’re stressed or anxious. Sometimes the toes of the feet and tip of the nose turn white and become numb too.
In Raynaud’s, these areas turn white initially, then change to a blue color, and finally become red as the hands warm up and the vessels become less constricted.
Raynaud’s syndrome is always reversible when the hand warms up which helps to distinguish it from other causes of numb, white fingers.
What causes Raynaud’s Syndrome?
No one knows the exact cause, but it can run in families.
Raynaud’s can occur alone as an isolated syndrome or it can be a sign of another disease – usually an autoimmune or connective tissue disease such as scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus.
A wide range of conditions and diseases can be associated with the numb, white fingers of Raynaud’s syndrome – including carpal tunnel syndrome, overuse syndromes, nerve damage, diseases of the arteries in the hands, an underactive thyroid gland, chemical exposure, frostbite, and smoking.
Some medications – particularly beta-blockers – can cause a Raynaud’s-like syndrome. That’s why it’s important that anyone with white, numb fingers upon cold exposure get a full evaluation to rule out other conditions. Sometimes Raynaud’s syndrome can be the first sign of another medical problem.
The bottom line?
Raynaud’s syndrome is the most common cause of numb, white fingers associated with cold exposure, and in the majority of cases, the symptoms will only be a minor annoyance.
On the other hand, it’s important to make sure the symptoms aren’t related to a more serious problem. Once other conditions are ruled out, there are medications to help relieve the symptoms of Raynaud’s.
How about natural treatments? One of the most important is to quit smoking since nicotine causes the blood vessels to constrict – and to avoid caffeine and over-the-counter cold medications which cause the blood vessels to clamp down.
Keep the hands warm by wearing heavy gloves or mittens in the winter and avoid cold water to prevent white, numb fingers.
Some small studies suggest that the herb gingko biloba treats the symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome, although it’s not as effective as prescription medications such as Nifedipine which may be prescribed to treat this condition. Talk to your doctor about the treatment options available for this condition.
Medscape.com website. “Ginkgo Biloba Less Effective for Raynaud’s Disease Than Nifedipine”
Merck Manual. 18th Edition.