Seasonal differences in finger skin temperature and microvascular blood flow in healthy men and women are exaggerated in women with primary Raynaud's phenomenon

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Abstract

Aims:

Patients with primary Raynaud's phenomenon (PRP) have more severe symptoms in the winter. The aetiology of this is more complex than simply increased vasoconstriction in response to the immediate ambient temperature. The aim of this study was to investigate differences in skin temperature (Tsk), microvascular blood flow and responses to endothelium-dependent and independent vasodilators in healthy controls, and women with PRP under identical environmental temperatures but in different seasons.

Methods:

Ten women with PRP were compared with age matched women (10) and men (10). Finger skin responses were recorded immediately on arrival, after stabilizing in a temperature regulated laboratory at 22–24 ° C, and at matched warm (35 ° C) and cold (15 ° C) Tsk in the winter and summer. Baseline red blood cell flux (r.b.c. flux), and the change in flux in response to iontophoresis of acetylcholine (ACh) and sodium nitroprusside (SNP) were recorded by laser Doppler fluxmetry at the warm and cold Tsk.

Results:

Arrival Tsk were significantly cooler for all subjects during the winter (mean seasonal difference -2.6 ° C, P < 0.0001), and markedly colder in subjects with PRP (mean seasonal difference -3.5 ° C, P < 0.0005). Statistically significant seasonal differences persisted in all subjects at stable Tsk despite an identical laboratory temperature (mean difference 1.3 ° C, P < 0.0001). To achieve comparable controlled finger Tsk a significantly colder local environment was required for male controls (mean of -2.1 ° C, P < 0.0001), and a significantly warmer environment for subjects with PRP (mean of + 2.4 ° C, P < 0.0001) compared with female controls. This needed to be warmer in the winter, by a mean of 2.4 ° C, than the summer for all subjects. Vasodilatation in response to ACh, but not SNP, was significantly smaller (P < 0.0001) in the PRP group compared with the female controls for all visits, with most of this difference arising in the winter visits (P < 0.01).

Conclusions:

There is a seasonal and persistent influence on finger Tsk, and microvascular blood flow in healthy men and women, which modifies the observed responses to immediate changes in finger Tsk. The seasonal differences are greater in women than men, and are further exaggerated in women with PRP, in whom this is associated with reduced endothelium-dependent vasodilatation.

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