Friday 30 January 2015

'My fingers suddenly turned white and went totally numb'

Raynaud's disease is a rare circulation disorder yet more people have it than MS, writes Edel Coffey

Raynauds sufferer Sarah Lynch all wrapped up to try to protect her from the cold
Raynauds sufferer Sarah Lynch all wrapped up to try to protect her from the cold

COMPLAINING about the Irish weather is a national pastime. But for some, the cold Irish weather can play havoc with even the simplest aspects of their lives. For them, the slightest drop in temperature can have a catastrophic impact on their health.

In 2010, Sarah Lynch was working on her computer when one of her hands went completely white and numb. "I didn't know what was going on," says the 30-year-old from Ratoath, Co Meath.

"My mam is a nurse so I ran to her and she tried to rub my fingers to get the colour back into my hand. It felt numb but with pins and needles at the same time."

Sarah had been in a car crash a few years beforehand so doctors initially assumed it was connected to a related back injury and she was sent for an MRI, which came back clear.

In 2010, the snow came and Ireland experienced one of the worst winters on record. "I was out walking my dogs and I had ski gloves on but I noticed that my middle finger on my left hand was really cold and it hurt. I took off my glove and my finger was white and sore."

These incidences continued and intensified over the next year and in 2011, when another winter brought more snow, Sarah's condition had worsened.

"It was moving into more fingers and they would go white, and then blue, and then red and the red was the hardest. It was like a flush of blood to the fingers, like when you squeeze your fingers really tight."

Sarah's mother suspected it was Raynaud's disease, a rare disorder where the blood supply to the fingers and toes is constricted in response to cold or stress. Over time, it can cause ulcers of the skin.

In March 2012, Sarah was diagnosed with Secondary Raynaud's, a symptom of Scleroderma, which is a hardening of the skin caused by excess collagen.

"The skin hardens and splits, which can cause ulcers and then it gets infected because there's no oxygen going to the finger and it tightens and the skin pulls it back from the nail."

When she was in the hospital, getting treatment for an ulcer on her finger, Sarah saw a sign for the Irish Raynaud's society, Raynaud's and Scleroderma Ireland, which offers support for people suffering from these rare illnesses.

"My finger was wrapped up and I looked like ET. I phoned them on the spot.

"I was so distressed because nobody knew what was going on and nobody could give me any help.

"They were the first people where I heard someone identifying with what I was going through. They helped me in ways I'll never be able to describe. It feels amazing that there is someone out there that really understands and has access to help. It was such a relief."

"It's very distressing because you're being sent away with no explanation or without knowing that the doctors understand what you're saying.

"GPs don't know anything about Scleroderma and A&E didn't know about it either. My ulcer looked like a little cut but it was causing me more pain I had ever felt. It sounds dramatic but it was a distressing time."

While Raynaud's is considered a rare illness, it is more common than MS. "Everyone knows what MS is, and yet Raynaud's is not as rare as that. I think a lot of people suffer from Raynaud's and don't even know it."

Irish Independent

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