Raynaud's: Raynaud's is a condition in which the blood supply to the extremities, usually the fingers and toes but sometimes also the ears and nose, is interrupted. It is estimated to affect 3-20% of the adult population and is nine times more common in women.
During an attack the extremities become first white and dead looking. They may then turn blue and then red and burning. There may be considerable pain, numbness or tingling. The condition can range in severity from minor discomfort, to the onset of ulcers or even gangrene. Progress may be very slow over a period of years and often starts in the very young or early teens. Teenagers are likely to grow out of it in their twenties.
These symptoms are due to an intermittent lack of blood in the affected parts when the arteries normally supplying them spasmodically contract. An attack will often be triggered by touching cold objects or exposure to cold of any kind. It seems to be a change of temperature rather than simple cold exposure that triggers an attack, so it can occur in the summer as well as in winter. Emotions, such as anxiety, also play a part, as can smoking. Raynaud's can occur spontaneously or in association with other disorders such as scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus or rheumatoid arthritis.
People who work with vibratory tools are prone to Raynaud's, which appears to be permanent even when the work with such tools has stopped. However if identified early the symptoms may disappear when the vibration ceases. This condition is known as ‘vibration induced white finger' and is recognised as an industrial disease eligible for compensation.
Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and for those with a mild condition, stopping smoking, wearing gloves and avoiding the cold may be enough. If the condition is severe, the General Practitioner can advise on the different types of drugs available. These include vasodilator drugs which open up the small blood vessels.
Scleroderma The word scleroderma means 'hard skin'. The condition affects the blood vessels, immune system and connective tissue. The skin, usually of the hands and feet, becomes stiff, tight and shiny. The disease is also known as systemic sclerosis, when other parts of the body are affected. It is estimated to affect 3,000 - 3,500 people in the UK.
In scleroderma the body produces too much of a protein called collagen. This is essential for holding the body together, but too much causes the body to become stiff and unable to function properly. This excess collagen is like scar tissue, it causes thickening and stiffening of those parts of the body it affects. The disease may also affect the connective tissue of the internal organs.
There are two major types of scleroderma:
Localised scleroderma - which affects isolated areas of skin and the tissues beneath it. This is a relatively mild condition and does not normally affect internal organs.
Systemic scleroderma - this affects both the skin and internal organs, including joints, blood vessels, the digestive system, heart, lungs and kidneys.
The symptoms include: extreme sensitivity to cold (most people with scleroderma suffer with Raynaud's at some stage in their illness); swelling of the hands and feet, especially in the morning: and the skin of the fingers, toes, trunk and limbs may become tight and shiny. The joints may tighten and bend due to the thickening of the skin. The disease usually starts between the ages of 25 and 55, with women being more often affected than men.
The cause is unknown but the condition is neither contagious nor inherited.
Scleroderma is a slow, chronic disorder, usually starting slowly and progressing gradually. Treatment consists of exercise, care of the skin and various drugs to help control the condition or treat complications.
Although there is no cure, proper treatment and care can make it possible for people with scleroderma to lead a full life.
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