Most people know that Raynaud’s affects fingers and toes, but the circulatory disorder can also cause painful nipples, as one female medic found out when she started breast feeding.
I started suffering from painful hands and feet during cold snaps in my late teens and early 20s, but despite the fact I was studying medicine, I didn’t really do anything about it – I just thought I had to live with it. I think most people with Raynaud’s feel the same way. It’s just something you put up with and try and avoid if possible. The pain of Raynaud’s, which is caused by poor circulation in the extremities triggered by change in temperature and even anxiety, is really difficult to describe but it can be so bad that you don’t know what to do with yourself.
The pain of Raynaud’s, which is caused by poor circulation in the extremities triggered by change in temperature and even anxiety, is really difficult to describe but it can be so bad that you don’t know what to do with yourself.
I remember one time, walking along the North Devon coast in the depths of winter, when my hands were so painful that I was dancing on the spot.
But I didn’t finally go and see a doctor until I started breast feeding my first child six years ago. I had started to experience the same excruciating pain of Raynaud’s in my nipples whenever the temperature changed suddenly or after the baby stopped feeding and my skin was exposed to the cool air. I was literally shouting with the pain. Despite the fact that I was a qualified doctor with specialist knowledge of autoimmune diseases, I didn’t put two and two together that I had Raynaud’s in my nipples.
Despite the fact that I was a qualified doctor with specialist knowledge of autoimmune diseases, I didn’t put two and two together that I had Raynaud’s in my nipples.
In fact, I had never heard of this. Fortunately, my bright spark of a GP worked it out and diagnosed the problem straight away. The tell tale signs were blanching and colour change of my nipple from white, to blue and back to pink when the circulation returned. Most women who suffer from this are told that they have thrush and are prescribed medicine countless times when they actually have Raynaud’s. Considering that Raynaud’s is so common – up to one in five women suffer from it – and we live in a changeable climate with cold winters, I think that undiagnosed Raynaud’s may be a major factor in the UK’s appallingly low breast feeding rates, but this is still only a theory.
My GP prescribed me Nifedipine which is a calcium channel blocker and a vasodilator and that solved the problem immediately.
Now I want to make sure that more women are aware that Raynaud’s can also affect the nipples, particularly during breast feeding. They can get help and successfully breast feed their baby. I also made sure that I wore lots of layers over my chest to keep the area warm and I had a cosy fleece blanket to cover up as soon as my baby released from the nipple.
I don’t need to take Nifedipine anymore and instead rely on wearing layers of gloves and thermal footwear on cold days. I’ve knitted myself Merino wool fingerless gloves with reach from forearm to midway down my fingers. On top of them, I wear special touchscreen gloves so I can still use my smartphone and, for very cold days, fleecy gloves with flip top mittens. I have fur-lined ankle boots and I wear socks and thermal ankle socks so I keep the cold out.
Raynaud’s really did affect my life, but it can be tackled, as long as you know what is causing all that pain. I wish I had done something about it sooner.
To find out more, go to www.sruk.co.uk