Raynaud’s Disease: Types, Symptoms and Treatment
Raynaud’s disease (also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, Raynaud’s syndrome) is a blood vessel disorder that causes the vessels in the body’s extremities to constrict more than necessary when experiencing stress or cold temperatures. The constricted vessels prevent blood from reaching the surface of the skin. This causes the affected areas, typically fingers and toes, to turn white, blue, then red.
Raynaud’s phenomenon can also occur on its own. People who experience Raynaud’s but are otherwise healthy are said to have primary Raynaud’s.
About 3 to 5% of people worldwide have Raynaud’s, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
The disorder was first detailed by Maurice Raynaud, a French physician, in 1862, according to a 2016 article published in the journal JAMA Dermatology. Raynaud described a group of 25 patients, 20 of whom were female, who experienced color changes in their hands and feet when exposed to cold or stress.
What Are The Types Of Raynaud’s Phenomenon?
There are two types of Raynaud’s: primary and secondary. Primary Raynaud’s is more common and secondary Raynaud’s tends to be more severe.
People with primary Raynaud’s usually feel a drop in body temperature in the affected region, but little pain. Those who have the secondary form of the condition often experience severe pain, numbness, and tingling in the fingers or toes. Episodes may last a few minutes or up to several hours.
When the vasospasm is over and you enter a warm environment, your fingers and toes may throb and appear bright red. The rewarming process begins after your circulation improves. Your fingers and toes may not feel warm for 15 minutes or more after circulated is restored.
The cause of primary Raynaud’s isn’t known. According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of Raynaud’s is:
- more common in women than men
- usually seen in people between the ages of 15 and 30
- seen in people who live in colder climates
- more prevalent if you have a parent or sibling with it.
Secondary Raynaud’s is caused by another disease, condition, or other factor. Some causes of secondary Raynaud’s include:
- artery diseases, such as Buerger’s disease or atherosclerosis
- medications that narrow the arteries, such as some beta-blockers and certain cancer drugs
- autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and scleroderma
- repeated injury to the arteries, especially from activities that cause vibration, such as jackhammering
- thoracic outlet syndrome
Secondary Raynaud’s is harder to manage than primary, as you will have to treat the disease or disorder causing it.
What Causes Raynaud’s Phenomenon?
Doctors don’t fully understand the cause of Raynaud’s. Secondary Raynaud’s is usually related to medical conditions or lifestyle habits that affect your blood vessels or connective tissue.
Construction workers who use jackhammers, for example, may have an increased risk of vasospasm. However, not everyone with the condition will have the same triggers. It’s important to pay attention to your body and learn what your triggers are.
Can Raynaud’s Phenomenon Be Diagnose?
Doctors diagnose Raynaud’s by considering the patient’s history and symptoms and by performing a physical exam. The doctor may closely examine the skin at the base of the fingernail called a nail fold capillaroscopy to look for deformities such as thick-walled blood vessels that could constrict too easily. [Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Real? Symptoms & Therapy]
According to the Mayo Clinic, people with secondary Raynaud’s often have enlarged or deformed blood vessels near their nail folds. This is in contrast to primary Reynaud’s, where your capillaries often appear normal when vasospasm is not occurring.
Blood tests can reveal whether or not you test positive for antinuclear antibodies (ANA). The presence of ANAs can mean you are more likely to experience autoimmune or connective tissue disorders. Such conditions put you at risk for secondary Raynaud’s.
Quick Available Treatments For Raynaud’s Phenomenon Patients?
There is no cure for primary Raynaud’s, and secondary Raynaud’s is often relieved by treating the underlying health problem. Primary Raynaud’s may be controlled by keeping the body warm, reducing stress, exercising and avoiding smoking, caffeine and medications that restrict blood flow. People with Raynaud’s should avoid direct contact with the cold and use potholders when removing items from the freezer or refrigerator, cover cold beverages with an insulated sleeve and wear wool or synthetic socks.
When a patient starts experiencing symptoms of Raynaud’s, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following remedies: moving to a warmer location, wiggling fingers and toes, increasing the heart rate and blood flow with movements such as wide arm circles (windmills), soaking hands or feet in warm water, gently massaging hands and feet, or practicing a stress-reducing technique such as deep breathing.
Your doctor may prescribe medication if you have frequent, long-lasting, or intense vasospasm episodes. Drugs that cause vasodilation help your blood vessels relax. These include:
- antihypertensive medications
- erectile dysfunction drugs
Some medications can also make your condition worse because they constrict blood vessels. Examples include:
- estrogen-based drugs
- migraine medicines
- birth control pills
- pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines
- Learn more about Raynaud’s syndrome from the Raynaud’s Association.
- Watch this video explainer about Raynaud’s syndromefrom Osmosis.
- Read more about Raynaud’s from Johns Hopkins Medicine.
- Raynaud’s Phenomenon Medication