We battle Raynaud's syndrome like Louise Minchin – I feel so cold that I worry my fingers might fall off

HOLED up in an abandoned Welsh castle in winter, many of us would suffer cold hands.

But for Louise Minchin, the wintry temperatures were a massive problem during her time on I’m A Celebrity.

The former BBC Breakfast presenter, 53, has a condition that limits blood flow to the fingers and toes — and it can be incredibly painful.

She said: “I feel the cold really badly. I have this thing called Raynaud’s syndrome which means my hands and feet go numb very quickly, even in the refridgerated aisles of supermarkets. So cold is a big thing for me.”

Louise even chose a hot water bottle as her luxury item so she could try to keep a little toasty in Gwrych Castle, Conwy.

“I have brought with me a fluffy hot water bottle that actually belongs to my daughter,” she added. “So not only is it going to be very helpful to keep me warm, but it’ll also remind me of home.”

Louise is not the only celebrity to struggle with her sometimes debilitating condition. When Scottish radio and TV presenter Jenni Falconer was 17, her right index finger turned completely white, as though all the blood had been drained from it.

When it happened more regularly, she started to worry that whatever was causing it might make “my ­finger fall off”.

Jenni was subsquently diagnosed with Raynaud’s, and since then her symptoms have intensified.

A keen runner, her hands and feet can end up feeling like “blocks of ice” and go completely numb.

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She describes the horrible sensation of her fingers thawing as like “being poked with cocktail sticks”.

According to the NHS, up to ten million people in the UK have Raynaud’s syndrome.

It is usually triggered by cold weather and icy temperatures but can also be brought on by a bout of anxiety or stress.

When an attack of Raynaud’s hits, the blood vessels in the affected area — usually your extremities — temporarily spasm. This halts blood flow and causes numbness and pins and needles, and in some cases excruciating pain.

It can make it difficult to move affected parts of the body, so you might not be able to hold or grip anything, or walk if your feet are suffering.

Raynaud’s is as common as arthritis but around three quarters of us have never heard of it.

Plunging winter temperatures can leave sufferers in agony and some — like supermarket delivery driver Steph Rolfe — have to manage their symptoms the year round.

“I used to be a postwoman and now I work as a delivery driver, so I’m always out in the cold,” explained Steph, 40, from Carshalton in Surrey. “I have to put my hands into the fridges and freezers quite a lot, which can be a real challenge. I have three different pairs of gloves to wear, depending on how cold it is.

“I’ll often have gloves on when other people are walking around in shorts and sandals.

“I also wear thermal socks and thermal underwear. It really helps if I keep my feet and my body warm.”

I was at work and one of my hands got progressively colder and turned blue. I was sent home and sat under a blanket for three hours but it wouldn’t warm up.

Steph has suffered since she was in her teens, but was only diagnosed after going to A&E following a severe attack in 2019.

“Sometimes it would get painful and my fingers would go very red or blue,” said Steph. I’d never heard of Raynaud’s and had no idea it was a medical condition until I went to hospital.

“I was at work and one of my hands got progressively colder and turned blue. I was sent home and sat under a blanket for three hours but it wouldn’t warm up.”

At A&E, she was checked for blood clots and, after lots of tests, was diagnosed with ­Raynaud’s.

Steph — mum to Jack, 20, and Katie, 13 — was given antibiotics, which didn’t help, and referred to a rheumatologist. They prescribed a medication called Nifedipine, which eased her symptoms.

She said: “I was grateful for something, as the attacks were beginning to happen more frequently and were getting more severe in both my hands and feet. The older I get, the worse it seems to be. When it’s really severe, it can affect my ears and nose too.

“It is very painful — like frostbite. Sometimes I’m barely able to move my hands and I can’t touch cold drinks or ice creams.

“If my children are home, they help me unpack the shopping or get things out when I need them to, otherwise I have to wear gloves.”

Steph says many people thoughtlessly underestimate how severely Raynaud’s can affect everyday life.

“This is a hidden disability,” she said. “Most people have never heard of it, and if you tell them they just think you get cold.

“They don’t understand it’s down to poor circulation and can be incredibly painful. Just getting a drink out of the fridge can be difficult for someone with Raynaud’s.

“I was really pleased when Louise spoke about it on I’m A Celeb. It would be great if people were more aware of what it is and more sensitive to those who suffer.

“If I was going into that cold castle, I’d have to take my earmuffs as my ears really hurt when they get cold.”

Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK (SRUK) aims to help sufferers. But the charity’s CEO, Sue Farrington, said: “There is a lack of awareness, not only among members of the public but also among healthcare professionals. Sadly, this means people often don’t get the help they need.”

All age groups are at risk of Raynaud’s, but the syndrome is more common in females, especially young women and teenagers.

Janine McDonald’s daughter Ciara was ten when she started experiencing worrying symptoms.

Janine, 51, a home organisation expert from Salford, recalled: “All of a sudden two fingers on her left hand started going numb and swelling up. They went very stiff and dark purple in colour.

“Initially I assumed she had banged them and that they would heal, but she kept complaining that they were painful. She was playing basketball and she couldn’t catch the ball properly.”

Ciara struggled to get to sleep because of the pain so Janine took her to A&E, thinking her daughter could maybe have actually “fractured or broken” her fingers.

Blood tests came back slightly raised but doctors couldn’t find a problem so Ciara, now 11, was referred to a paediatric rheumatologist at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

It was then that she was diagnosed with Raynaud’s. Winter is a really tough time when it comes to her symptoms.

Janine explained: “It is getting a lot worse now, her hands are always cold. She is left-handed so struggles to write. It is getting worse on her other hand, too. When it gets painful it is very upsetting for her.”

One of our patients described the pain as so severe she wanted to chop her hand off.

The pain can be agonising, especially when affected areas start to warm up and thaw out.

Sue said: “One of our patients described the pain as so severe she wanted to chop her hand off.”

Experts say lifestyle changes can help, such as giving up smoking, regular but gentle exercise — and wearing several thin layers to keep warm, or a pair of cotton or silk gloves under thicker gloves to add warmth. In severe cases, GPs can prescribe medication.

Sue added: “Sometimes Raynaud’s may indicate a more serious underlying condition and you need to be monitored. If you are having more frequent attacks and they are lasting longer, see your GP.”

Spot the signs

WHEN you are cold, anxious or stressed you might notice the symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome. The most common of which are:

  • Fingers and toes change colour
  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Pins and needles
  • Difficulty moving the affected area

For some, symptoms can also affect their ears, nose, lips or even nipples. A flare-up can last from a few minutes to a few hours.

Raynaud’s can be caused by other health conditions, taking certain medicines and substances or working with vibrating tools for long periods and can be exacerbated by cold temperatures, stress and drinking alcohol and caffeine.

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