Raynaud's Phenomenon

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Raynaud’s is a rare disorder in which the arteries that carry blood to extremities are restricted by vasospasms, which cause these blood vessels to constrict and narrow. Although the fingers and toes are most often affected, this condition can also affect the nose, ears, nipples or lips. Cold temperatures and stress typically trigger Raynaud's phenomenon symptoms.

Raynaud's Phenomenon Symptoms

Symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon occur because little to no blood reaches the affected body parts. During a Raynaud’s attack, the affected areas typically turn white then blue for a period of time while feeling numb, cold or painful. When blood flow returns, these areas may turn red, throb, tingle and burn.

Raynaud’s attacks can last from a few seconds to several hours; their occurrence can range from daily to weekly. In rare instances, severe Raynaud’s attacks can cause skin sores or gangrene, which occurs when tissue dies. 

Risks and Causes of Raynaud's Phenomenon

There are two main types of Raynaud’s phenomenon: primary and secondary. Primary Raynaud’s phenomenon is the more common type. Although it has no known cause, it has several known risk factors:

  • Age – people under age 30 have a greater risk
  • Cold and stress can trigger attacks
  • Familial – people who have a parent, sibling or child with the condition are at greater risk
  • Gender – women are at a greater risk than men

Secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon is caused by another disease or condition, such as:

  • A disease or condition that directly damages the arteries or nerves to the hands or feet, including scleroderma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, Buerger’s disease, thyroid problems or pulmonary hypertention
  • Exposure to industrial chemicals, such as vinyl chloride
  • Medications that narrow the arteries or affect blood pressure, including beta blockers, birth control pills, prescriptions to treat migraine headaches or cancer, over-the-counter diet aids or cold and allergy drugs
  • Repetitive actions that damage or injure the nerves that control the arteries in the hands and feet, such as playing the piano, typing or using vibrating tools
  • Smoking

Diagnosis Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Doctors diagnose Raynaud’s based your medical history, risk factors and results from a physical exam, which will include assessing blood flow to your fingers and toes, and performing a complete physical exam to check for conditions related to secondary Raynaud’s.

Testing may include:

  • A cold stimulation test, which exposes your fingers to cold and then measures how quickly they warm up
  • A nailfold capillaroscopy test to check your nail beds under a microscope for signs of connective tissue disease
  • Various blood tests to check for conditions related to secondary Raynaud’s

Treating Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Although there is no cure, your doctor may recommend the following lifestyle changes to reduce the severity and frequency of Raynaud’s attacks: 

  • Avoid becoming upset or stressed whenever possible or develop coping strategies to help manage or reduce stress
  • Limit your use of caffeine and alcohol
  • Limit your use of vibrating tools and repetitive hand actions
  • Protect your hands and feet from cold temperatures
  • Quit smoking
  • Wear proper protective attire if working with industrial chemicals

To help prevent Raynaud’s attacks, your doctor may recommend injections or surgery to block the nerves in your hands or feet.

To improve blood flow to the affected areas and prevent permanent damage, your doctor may recommend any of the following medications:

  • ACE inhibitors
  • Alpha blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Prescription skin creams

If skin sores or gangrene is present, antibiotics or surgery may be necessary.

A Leader in Treating Raynaud’s Phenomenon 

Aurora Health Care has many qualified primary doctors and internists who can diagnose and treat Raynaud’s phenomenon. We also have access to rheumatologists, who specialize in treating disorders of the joints, bones and muscles, which can be associated with secondary Raynaud’s.

Aurora doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.