As the weather warms in the Chicago area, it might seem like a strange time to be talking about cold hands. But for some people, uncomfortably cold hands is not just an artifact of the long Midwestern winter, but a medical syndrome that may require treatment. Defined by its primary symptom rather than a single cause, Cold Hands Syndrome is marked by, well, cold hands, as well as pain, numbness and occasionally discoloration or even tissue damage. The source of these symptoms is a loss of circulation to the hands and fingers, but the cause of that decreased blood flow can range from Raynaud’s Disease to blood clots to arteriosclerosis to lupus to scleroderma. As Ginard Henry, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center, describes it, Cold Hands Syndrome is “a range of different diseases” that cause similar symptoms in one’s extremities.
“Your hands are almost like a lawn at the end of a street, and you are giving the lawn water to grow,” Henry said. “If anything disrupts that flow of water then the lawn doesn’t grow and you have a problem.”
Henry and colleagues Lawrence Zachary, associate professor of surgery, and Nadera Sweiss, assistant professor of medicine, have launched the Cold Hands Clinic at the Medical Center, uniting expert physicians from a number of disciplines to focus on this unusual problem. I sat down with Henry to ask him about Cold Hands Syndrome: what it is, how it’s diagnosed, and how it is treated. Befitting the diverse causes of the disorder, there are a number of different treatments, including measures as simple as moisturizing and the use of drugs such as Viagra and Botox for, shall we say, purposes other than their primary use.