REDDING, Conn., Sept. 26, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Some 15-30 million Americans suffer from a medical condition often called "Zombie Hands." Their fingers may turn a ghoulish white, then blue and red, when cold or stressed.
Named after the French physician Maurice Raynaud, Raynaud's Phenomenon has mystified the medical community for over 150 years. There's no formal test for it, no FDA-approved drugs to treat the painful attacks, and no cure. For some unknown reason, the vast majority of sufferers are women.
October is Raynaud's Awareness Month. According to the Raynaud's Association, the only 501(c)3 charitable organization devoted to the disorder, Raynaud's has been virtually ignored not just by the medical community but also by "Frosties" themselves. That can be dangerous.
"Only 10 percent of people with Raynaud's seek treatment," says Raynaud's Association Founder and Chair Lynn Wunderman. "They often dismiss the discomfort or pain by saying they have poor circulation or are allergic to the cold. But their symptoms could be a sign of an underlying serious condition such as scleroderma, lupus and other possibly life-threatening diseases."
Sometimes the onset of Raynaud's occurs months or years before a primary disease presents itself. That's why medical intervention and monitoring are important. Simple blood tests can reveal antibodies associated with those diseases.
During a Raynaud's attack, the blood vessels go into spasms, which can cause pain, numbness, throbbing and tingling. Although fingers are usually the primary affected area, the toes, nose, ears, sexual organs and other extremities may be involved.
Wunderman says Raynaud's phenomenon is thought to involve an overreaction by the sympathetic nervous system, similar to the "fight or flight" syndrome experienced when the body senses danger. "If you're frightened, you might turn 'white as a sheet' because the outer blood vessels constrict to send blood to the body's core to protect the vital organs where it's needed in an emergency," she says. "Thus, Zombie Hands!"
Although the Raynaud's Association experiences the highest traffic to its social media vehicles and website (www.raynauds.org) during the colder months, it's a year round problem. "Walking into an air-conditioned room can make your fingers or toes throb or sting," Wunderman points out. "Holding a cold glass or putting your hand in the freezer can be very painful. And, of course, stress knows no seasons."
Manufacturers of outdoor clothing and accessories are starting to recognize the huge market potential of promoting their warm products to Frosties, the Raynaud's Association has found. "Lots of items designed for winter sports still are too bulky and impractical for everyday and indoor use," says Wunderman. "So sometimes we have a choice of looking like a Zombie or Nanook of the North."
But as the apparel industry is catching on, the pharmaceutical companies are lagging, missing the market potential of reaching the five percent or more of the population with Raynaud's.
In the meantime, physicians may prescribe drugs "off-label" to dilate blood vessels. Calcium channel blockers such as nifedipine, most often used for high blood pressure, are commonly used. Topical antibiotics or nitroglycerin paste or patches may be prescribed to protect against infection, skin lesions or ulcers. Many Frosties with severe symptoms find relief from erectile dysfunction drugs, which are very costly and often not covered by insurance.
"But, first, if you have Zombie Hands, you need to seek medical help," Wunderman concludes. In addition to the Raynaud's Association's website, sources include a comprehensive guide, "The Cold Facts on Raynaud's (and Strategies for a Warmer Life)"; informational videos; a blog; patient discussion forums; product reviews; and a strong presence on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Materials are vetted by a Medical Advisory Board of leading rheumatologists internationally known for their expertise in Raynaud's research and treatment.
To learn more, and to support the work of the Raynaud's Association, go to www.raynauds.org, or call the Raynaud's Association at 800-280-8055.