Raynaud's phenomenon is a disorder that causes decreased blood flow to the fingers. In some cases, it also causes less blood flow to the ears, toes, nipples, knees, or nose. This happens due to spasms of blood vessels in those areas. The spasms happen in response to cold, stress, or emotional upset.
Raynaud's can occur on its own, known as primary form. Or it may occur with other diseases, known as secondary form. The diseases most often linked with Raynaud's are autoimmune or connective tissue diseases such as:
The primary form of Raynaud's is the most common type. It often begins between ages 15 and 25. It's less severe than secondary Raynaud's. People with primary Raynaud's do not often develop a related condition.
The exact cause of Raynaud's is unknown. It is possible that some blood disorders may cause Raynaud’s by increasing the blood thickness. This may happen due to excess platelets or red blood cells. Or, special receptors in the blood that control the narrowing (constriction) of the blood vessels may be more sensitive.
Certain factors can increase a person's risk for developing Raynaud's, such as:
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person. Common symptoms include:
The process starts with a medical history and a physical exam. Your health care provider may give you a cold challenge test. This is done to see the color changes in the hands and fingers. During the test, your hands are exposed to cold. Your health care provider may also look at the tiny blood vessels in your fingernails (nailfold capillaroscopy) with a microscope. Adults who start to have Raynaud's phenomenon after age 35 may be tested for an underlying disease. You may have blood tests to see if your condition is primary or secondary.
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, your age, and your general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. There is no cure for Raynaud's phenomenon, but it can be managed with proper treatment. Treatment may include:
Talk with your health care providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medications.
In rare cases, sores on finger pads may occur. These sores may progress to gangrene. In rare cases, gangrene may lead to finger amputation.
For most people living with Raynaud’s, it is more of an inconvenience than a serious problem. Avoiding triggers, primarily cold, can reduce the spasms that lead to symptoms. If there is an underlying cause, such as scleroderma or lupus, it may be more difficult to manage attacks. If you have secondary Raynaud’s, work with your health care provider to manage your underlying condition. This may decrease attacks of Raynaud’s.
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your health care provider know.
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