raynaud's phenomenon

overview

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

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 more often affects people who are:

  • Under age 30 
  • Cold or under stress 
  • Related to a person with the condition
  • Are female

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

  • Diseases or conditions that directly damage the arteries or nerves, including scleroderma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, Buerger’s disease, thyroid problems or pulmonary hypertension
  • Exposure to industrial chemicals such as vinyl chloride
  • Medications 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 such as playing the piano, typing or using vibrating tools
  • Smoking

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 occur when tissue dies.

diagnosis

To diagnose Raynaud’s syndrome, your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms. He or she will also perform a physical exam to assess blood flow to your fingers and toes. Additional testing may include:

  • A cold stimulation test
  • A nailfold capillaroscopy test, which checks your nail beds under a microscope for signs of connective tissue disease
  • Various blood tests

treatment options

Although there’s 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 prescribe medication, such as skin creams and antibiotics.

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