Raynaud’s phenomenon is a common condition which affects the blood circulating to the extremities, such as hands and feet, as well as the ears and lips in the case of some people with the condition. It is caused by the blood vessels in these areas constricting more than usual and therefore limiting the blood flow. The condition affects up to 10 million people in the UK.
What are the signs and symptoms of Raynaud’s phenomenon?
People with Raynaud’s phenomenon experience their symptoms most readily during cold weather, but also as a result of stress or hormonal changes. These symptoms include:
- Pain in fingers, toes, ears, nose or lips
- Numbness in these areas
- Movement difficulties in these areas
- Pins and needles
- Change in skin appearance/colour – when cold, skin can appear blue or white
How does Raynaud’s phenomenon get diagnosed and treated?
Raynaud’s phenomenon can usually be managed quite easily and symptoms rarely have a significant adverse effect on the person’s daily life.
Some of the symptoms are similar to those caused by hyperventilation (numbness), resting on a part of the body for too long (pins and needles) or chilblains (burning sensation in the extremities).
Symptoms can be managed by staying warm, particularly by keeping the affected extremities warm such as by wearing gloves and thick socks. Regular exercise to improve circulation and eating a balanced, healthy diet can also help.
GP advice should be sought if symptoms are bad enough to adversely affect daily life, or are worsening, if the person is over 30 and develop symptoms for the first time, or if they are under 12.
A drug called nifedipine can be prescribed in cases of severe circulation difficulties.
Numbness in only one side of the body could be a sign of something more serious, such as a stroke, and is reason to contact a medical professional.
There are a few ways to determine whether an employee has Raynaud’s phenomenon, or to confirm a Raynaud’s phenomenon diagnosis which requires reasonable adjustments:
- Even if the employee does not wish to disclose their Raynaud’s phenomenon, an employer can focus on making reasonable adjustments, rather than seeking to determine the precise condition their employee has.
- Given that Raynaud’s phenomenon can evolve over time, with certain symptoms worsening depending on the weather, inside temperature or level of stress of a situation, it is important to maintain regular communication with the employee who has Raynaud’s phenomenon so that the reasonable adjustments remain appropriate.
What reasonable adjustments are possible with Raynaud’s phenomenon?
Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with Raynaud’s phenomenon if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee has Raynaud’s phenomenon. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.
If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance up front, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of Raynaud’s phenomenon:
- Accommodating home or remote working: this can help if the employee has significant flare-ups in their symptoms, such as on particularly cold days during the winter months.
- Making assistive technology available and training on how to use it: such as voice recognition software to minimise the need for use of a mouse or keyboard, which could be difficult if the employee is experiencing significant hand numbness or pain.
- Making sure the office environment is as comfortable as possible: such as by making sure employees with Raynaud’s phenomenon can sit away from draughty areas of the office, or providing them with a heater.
- Flexibility of dress code: so that the employee can wear gloves in the office, or different shoes that help keep their feet warmer.
- Raise awareness: for the employees with Raynaud’s phenomenon to be better understood in the workplace, and to make employees feel comfortable with asking for help related to their Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Raynaud’s phenomenon Signposting
Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK – charity working to improve awareness of Raynaud’s phenomenon (and a related condition called scleroderma), to support those affected and to find a cure (020 3893 5998).