Raynaud's Disease

Your health care provider has told you that you have Raynaud's disease. It is also called Raynaud's phenomenon or Raynaud's syndrome. There is no cure for Raynaud's disease, but you can manage it to prevent attacks.

Hand and foot showing discolored tips of fingers and toes. Raynaud often affects fingers and toes.

What are the symptoms of Raynaud's disease?

A Raynaud's attack is often triggered by cold or stress. During an attack, blood vessels suddenly narrow. This most often happens in fingers and toes. In rare cases, the nose, ears, or even tongue are affected. Narrowed blood vessels reduce the blood supply to the area. The area then turns white, then blue. The area may feel numb or painful. As the attack passes, the blood vessels open. The affected area may turn bright red as it warms up, then returns to normal color.

What is the cause of Raynaud's disease?

With Raynaud's, it is believed that blood vessels in the affected areas overrespond to certain triggers, such as cold. This makes them narrow much more than in people without the disease. What causes the blood vessels to react so strongly to certain triggers  is unknown. In between attacks, the blood vessels are normal and healthy. Attacks don’t permanently damage the blood vessels.

In some cases, Raynaud's occurs along with another disease or condition. This is often a connective tissue disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. If this is the case for you, you and your doctor can discuss treatment for the underlying condition.

 

Possible triggers

  • Cold

  • Stress

  • Smoking

  • Repetitive movements

  • Certain medications, such as beta-blockers, migraine medicine, birth control pills and others

  • Injury

How is Raynaud's disease diagnosed?

Your description of your symptoms, a health history, and a physical exam are often enough for a diagnosis. Blood tests may be done to see if any underlying conditions are present and rule out other problems.

How is Raynaud's disease treated?

There is no cure for Raynaud's. But you can control symptoms and prevent attacks. For most people, avoiding triggers is enough to limit attacks. Your health care provider may suggest the following:

  • Take precautions to help prevent your hands and feet from losing circulation. This includes:

    • Dressing warmly in cold weather.

    • Wear gloves or mittens when your hands may become cold, such as when you use the refrigerator or freezer.

    • Avoid stress and caffeine.

    • If you smoke, quitting may improve the condition. This is because smoking causes your blood vessels to narrow and reduces blood flow.

  • Soak your hands or feet in warm (not hot) water. Do this at the first sign of attack. Keep soaking until your skin color returns to normal.

In some people, symptoms are persistent or troubling. For these cases, other treatments are an option. Your health care provider can tell you more about the following:

  • Prescription medications that relax and widen blood vessels, such as calcium channel blockers. These may help relieve symptoms.

  • Nerve surgery for severe cases that don’t respond to other treatments. Surgery removes the nerves that surround the blood vessels in the hands and feet. Without nerve stimulation, the blood vessels stay more relaxed. They are less likely to become very narrow due to stimulus. Nerves may be blocked using injections in some cases.

Most cases of Raynaud are not cause for concern. The disease doesn’t get worse and isn’t likely to cause any permanent damage. If attacks are severe, very prolonged, or very frequent, skin damage may result. Controlling attacks can help prevent this.

When to seek medical care

The following problems occur rarely, but they can be serious. Call your health care provider right away if you notice any of the following:

  • Infection or sores on the skin

  • A finger or toe turns black

  • The skin breaks open on its own

  • A rash develops

  • A finger or toe joint becomes painful or swollen