What is Raynaud's syndrome?
The condition we call Raynaud's syndrome or Raynaud's phenomenon, a disorder common to young women, causes episodes of abrupt spasm of the arteries supplying blood to the hands. The attack usually begins with loss of color (white hands) as the blood supply suddenly diminishes, followed by purplish tingeing (blue hands) as the length of time without adequate blood flow increases, and finally by fiery color, throbbing pain, and tingling as the blood vessel spasm relaxes and blood returns (red hands).
These paroxysmal blood vessel spasms can occur because of cold temperature (an exaggerated form of the blood vessel constriction that normally occurs in all people's hands in cold weather) or because of emotional upset. If these episodes continue for longer than 3 years (with no other medical explanation for them), we call the condition Raynaud's syndrome. From time to time, the frequency and duration of attacks deprives the skin of the fingertips of blood long enough to cause skin damage, forming ulcers that repeatedly must scab over and heal.
Medical treatment usually consists of keeping the hands protected from cold (wearing warm gloves) or injury, and stopping smoking (components in tobacco smoke cause spasm of the blood vessels, too). Sometimes physicians prescribe medications to prevent the blood vessel spasm (such as nifedipine, Procardia). And occasionally, some people may require surgery to cut the nerves that supply the blood vessel wall, so that they can no longer send signals to constrict. But in addition to any medical treatment that might be necessary, what can nutrition offer? Let's look.
What makes Raynaud's syndrome worse?
• Sometimes allergic reactions to food or food sensitivities can trigger Raynaud's phenomenon. Discovering what of the many foods or food additives could be responsible takes time. You may want to enlist the aid of an allergy specialist to perform some blood or skin testing to help narrow down the field. Once you're armed with a list of probable suspects, your job begins in earnest. You must systematically eliminate each food or substance individually. We have described this process, called an elimination trial, in detail under Food Allergy. Refer to that discussion for further information.
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