Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Saturday, 7 February 2009

'The cold snap left my feet dead'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Fiona Trotter
Fiona has had Raynaud's since she was 18

For many people the recent cold snap has been a chance to enjoy the snow.

But for others the plummeting temperatures have been a real threat to their health.

Fiona Trotter, aged 29, from Sandbach, has Raynaud's syndrome - a condition in which the extremities of the body, mainly the fingers and toes are temporarily starved of blood on exposure to the cold.

She has spent most of the last week avoiding spending time outside, but even the walk from the car to the office has left her in agony.

I try to keep indoors as much as possible
Fiona Trotter
"The recent cold snap has not really suited me very well.

"You do need to work, you can't stop indoors all the time. But yesterday my feet were dead and losing their feeling.

"It can be painful and can take a while for the circulation to be restored."

Extreme pain

She said at first her toes and fingers turn white, then blue and then finally red as the blood flow is restored - leaving her digits in extreme pain and feeling as if they have been trapped in a car door.

"When you have an attack your feet feel like you are walking on marbles," she said.

RAYNAUD'S FACTS
First described by Maurice Raynaud in 1862
Raynaud's is a condition affecting up to 10 million people in the UK
It causes severe pain in the extremities when exposed to temperature change
An "attack" can be brought on by exposure to cold of any kind such as the weather or simply getting something out of a fridge
"When you can't feel your feet properly it is painful. And when your hands are affected it is hard to handle change or sign your name.

"I also suffer from chilblains, especially this winter. They appear on my toes - they first become itchy, then red and swollen with a burning sensation and are tender to touch.

"They usually last for a couple of weeks.

"I try to keep indoors as much as possible."

Aiding circulation

Raynaud's affects up to 10 million people in the UK, mainly women and in extreme cases can lead to ulcers and gangrene.

To mark February as Raynaud's Awareness month the Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association (RSA) has launched a national campaign to offer handy hints to keeping warm.

These range from health food supplements such as ginger and garlic to improve circulation to hand warmers and heating aids.

HEAT HINTS FOR PATIENTS
Always wear insulated gloves before going into the fridge or freezer
A hair dryer is useful for warming clothes and shoes
A hot bath before going to bed will help to warm your body enabling you to have a good night's sleep
After a bath leave the water in while you dress - it will give off enough heat to keep you warm

Professor Christopher Denton, of the centre for Rheumatology at the Royal Free Hospital, London said primary Raynaud's - with no associated medical disease - affects as many as one in 10 women, and fewer men.

He said secondary Raynaud's usually linked to either lupus (an inflammatory condition that affects the immune system and can affect the joints, skin and internal organs) or sclederoma (a disease of the immune system, blood vessels and connective tissue) is less frequent, about one in 1,000 cases.

Professor Denton said it can cause serious health problems.

"In severe cases it can lead to skin breakdown ulcers or even gangrene but this is fortunately rare, and usually in secondary Raynaud's."

Raynaud's
Raynaud's affects the extremities
And he said the recent cold snap would have caused problems.

"Any exposure to cold will trigger attacks and the more severe the cold the more risk of tissue damage such as ulcers."

A spokesman for Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association said it is important the condition is taken seriously.

"Many people who suffer from cold hands and feet may not be aware that their condition has a name. Raynaud's should be taken seriously because although in some people the condition may be mild, once it starts to interfere with one's daily life and activities it is important to check with a GP that there is no underlying condition".

For a free information pack, which includes a leaflet on Raynaud's, Handy Hints on Keeping Warm and details of tried and tested products, send an SAE to RSA, 112 Crewe Road, Alsager, Cheshire ST7 2JA, or call Freephone on 0800 917 2494.

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