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Raynaud's Syndrome: What is It? How to Beat it

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Raynaud's Syndrome sufferers deal with pain in the hands and feet when exposed to cold. (istockphoto) istockphoto

(CBS) Do your hands and feet change color and become racked with pain when exposed to the cold? If so, you may be one of the estimated 28 million people that have Raynaud's Syndrome.

That number comes from the Raynaud's Association, which says anywhere from five to ten percent of Americans may suffer from the condition, but few seek help.

Symptoms, such as cold fingers and toes, skin color changes from white to red to blue, and numbness or pain when the areas warm up, are caused by a limiting of blood flow to the affected areas, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The tips of the nose and ears, lips and nipples can also be affected.

Little is known about the root causes of the condition, which was discovered more than 100 years ago by the French doctor Maurice Raynaud.

The disease strikes far more women than men, often first appears between 15 and 30 and is more common in cold climates. Stress, repetitive hand trauma, smoking and medications that affect blood flow are also risk factors, according to the Mayo Clinic. Scleroderma and lupus can also be factors.

There isn't a cure for the disease, but there are many medicines that can treat the symptoms. Doctors often prescribe drugs that open or relax blood vessels, such as calcium channel blockers, alpha blockers and vasodilators.

They also try to steer patients clear of drugs that can constrict blood vessels, such as beta blockers, some birth control pills and some over the counter cold pills such as Sudafed and Chlor-Trimeton.

In rare cases, nerves may be cut or a digit amputated.

Perhaps some of the best medicine is natural: don't smoke or drink caffeine, workout and don't stress out. If an attack does strike, the Mayo Clinic says get warm, wiggle your fingers and toes or try putting your hands under  your armpits or under warm water. And if stress is the trigger, remove yourself from the situation if you can.

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