-- To say my body doesn’t do well in the cold is an understatement. When the temperature drops, my fingers freeze, and often turn deep red, followed by white. On especially exciting days, they’ll look a little blue. “Cold hands, warm heart,” my mom used to tell me.
Growing up in sunny Southern California, this rarely happened—mostly just on ski trips or when I’d spend too long in the ocean. (Yes, I realize how obnoxious that sentence is.) But when I moved to New York for college five years ago, my blue hands became a winter mainstay. I’d never lived in a cold climate, so I assumed this happened to everyone in frigid weather.
Naturally, I headed back to New York with a lot of questions, so I called up Melisa Lai Becker, MD, site chief of emergency medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance in Everett, Mass. Dr. Lai Becker described my experience as “the classic vignette that would open a textbook chapter on Raynaud’s disease.” (By the way, it’s pronounced ray-NOHZ.) So if you’re concerned you might also have Raynaud’s, here’s some info and advice from Dr. Lai Becker to help you (and me) out.
How do I know I have it?
“The average person can go into chilly weather and get by without gloves, their fingers would just get a bit cold,” says Dr. Lai Becker. But someone who has Raynaud’s has a much more extreme reaction. “If you touch their hands, you can tell the difference,” she explains. “Even in a moderately cold environment, they have white, ice-cold hands.” In addition to getting cold, if you have Raynaud’s, your hands might turn white, then blue, and red when you start warming up again. But not everyone with Raynaud’s exhibits all three colors, or in that exact order. You might also experience these symptoms in other extremities including your ears, nose, lips, and even nipples (cringe!).
If you notice any of these symptoms, even simply getting cold and painful fingers, Dr. Lai-Becker recommends you see your doctor and possibly get a referral to a rheumatologist. A doctor will help you determine whether you have primary Raynaud’s (the most common type), or secondary, meaning it’s brought on by another condition.
How did I get this?
Why do my hands turn blue?
Is it dangerous?
Can I treat it?
Since I don’t have plans to move back to sunny California in the near future, here are the next two things on my to-do list: schedule an appointment with my doctor, and invest in a hefty pair of mittens. Who’s with me?
This article previously appeared on Health.com