I am not made for winter. Despite the fact that Christmas is in December and my birthday is in February, winter is my least favorite season for one big reason: I HATE to be cold… and I am ALWAYS cold! It’s one of the many side effects of living with Hashimoto’s (and Raynaud’s).
Last December, I wrote an article for my fellow Hashimoto’s warriors about winterizing your thyroid, offering my top ten “survival tips” to avoid flare-ups during the cold, dark season. As I noted in that article, those of us with Hashimoto’s disease and/or hypothyroidism, have a slower metabolism, which in turn means having a lower core body temperature and a higher sensitivity to cold.
But sometimes, it’s more than that.
What happens when a sensitivity to cold temperatures becomes an intolerance that is more than just a nuisance? What happens when that unshakable chill turns painful and debilitating? It may be Raynaud’s.
Named after the French physician, Dr. Maurice Raynaud, in 1862, Raynaud’s is a blood vessel disorder that occurs when an afflicted person experiences stress or cold temperatures. It causes the blood vessels to narrow and constrict, preventing blood from reaching the surface of the skin, so the affected areas turn white and blue. When the blood flow returns, the skin turns red and throbs, burns, tingles, and/or goes numb. In severe cases, the loss of blood flow can cause sores or tissue death.
According to medical journals, there are two types of Raynaud’s — primary and secondary. Primary Raynaud’s is called Raynaud’s disease and the cause is unknown. Secondary Raynaud’s, called Raynaud’s syndrome or phenomenon, is caused by an underlying disease, condition, or other mitigating factors, such as injuries, toxic chemical exposure, certain medications that affect blood pressure, and even long-term repetitive actions that damage nerves, like typing or using a jackhammer. People with other chronic health conditions related to the arteries and/or blood, like Buerger’s, polycythemia, and atherosclerosis, are also likely to develop secondary Raynaud’s.
THE AUTOIMMUNE CONNECTION
Raynaud’s isn’t an autoimmune disease in and of itself, but it often goes hand-in-hand with many autoimmune diseases, especially those that directly damage the arteries or nerves that control the arteries in the hands and feet, like scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjorgren’s. Additionally, many with lupus, MS, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis also suffer from Raynaud’s due to widespread inflammation that can narrow arteries.
THE COLD TRUTH
It doesn’t take a day of skiing in sub-zero temperatures or getting stuck outside in a blizzard to trigger a Raynaud’s attack. Mild or brief exposure to temperatures below 60 degrees can cause those burning, colorless extremities to appear. Even something as simple as reaching into the freezer to grab your favorite pint of ice cream can wreak havoc.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for Raynaud’s. No pill to mitigate the pain. No medication to make it go away. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid all winter activities and frozen treats for the rest of your life. A few precautions and new habits can make a world of difference.
Below are my top twelve management tips for surviving winter — and the Whole Foods frozen food aisle — with Raynaud’s. (Yes, some of these may seem obvious, but sometimes the obvious is worth restating.)
- Avoid cold temperatures whenever possible — This is easier said than done for those of us who live in part of the world where winter weather is downright COLD. But if you don’t need to be outside for extended periods of time when the temperatures dip, just don’t.
- Create more heat inside — This is pretty obvious. Raise the thermostat, start a fire in a fireplace, or turn on an electric heater for added warmth.
- Dress in warm layers, including hats, scarves, etc. — I personally love a long-sleeved shirt with thumb holes as my base layer under a warm sweater or hoodie, and I’ve been known to wear a scarf and hat inside when I’m really cold. The struggle is real!
- Wear thick, wooly socks, compression socks, and maybe even toe warmers — I’m a big fan of compression socks to reduce fatigue and edema, and during the winter I layer them with wooly socks on top. As for the toe warmers, I’m still searching for non-toxic, green options, but for now use the single-use ones you can buy in Target and most sporting goods stores.
- Wear gloves and use hand warmers — This goes along with the layering tip. Side note: Try fingerless gloves when inside if you need to type or have more dexterity in your fingertips. As for the hand warmers, see note about toe warmers.
- Bundle up with cozy blankets — Heated blankets, weighted blankets, even just fleece, wool, or thermal blankets work wonders in making you feel warm and cozy.
- Snuggle with your favorite human or fur baby — Once you’re bundled under your favorite blanket, generate more body heat with a hug, embrace, or sitting closely on the sofa while you “Netflix and chill” (or should I say, “Netflix and warm up”).
- Consume warm drinks — I am never without a hot cup of something (even plain water) during the winter because it warms my hands and my belly. My personal favorites include green tea, almond milk collagen hot cocoa, and warm golden almond milk lattes.
- Move your body — Any form of movement works to raise your body temperature. Think jumping up and down, swinging your arms, or dancing. If you’re up for it, running and other forms of more organized exercise will definitely get you sweating, not to mention release endorphins, reduce stress, and burn calories.
- Limit or manage stress — Did you know that when the body is stressed, blood vessels can constrict? Try to incorporate yoga, mediation, music, knitting, quiet reading, or whatever works best for you to create a sense of calm and ease on a regular basis.
- Soak in a warm bath or use an infrared sauna — This practice helps to warm the body and is also a great post-workout recovery and stress management technique. Infrared saunas also help with detoxing, and adding epsom salt to bath water provides the added benefit of magnesium.
- Check your medication — Some medication can restrict your blood vessels further. Talk to your doctor and make sure he/she is aware of your experience with Raynaud’s.
If all else fails, you can always move to somewhere warm and tropical, like Bali … A girl can dream, right?