Raynaud’s Phenomenon

What is Raynaud’s phenomenon?

Raynaud’s phenomenon is a problem 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 because of 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 happen along with other diseases, known as secondary form. The diseases most often linked with Raynaud’s are autoimmune or connective tissue diseases such as:

  • Lupus
  • Scleroderma
  • CREST syndrome (a form of scleroderma)
  • Buerger disease
  • Sjögren syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Occlusive vascular disease, such as atherosclerosis
  • Polymyositis
  • Blood
    disorders
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Pulmonary hypertension

The
primary form of Raynaud’s is the most common type. It often starts between ages 15 and
25. It’s less severe than secondary Raynaud’s. People with primary Raynaud’s don’t often
develop a related condition. Secondary Reynaud’s often develops later in midlife,
between ages 35 and 40.

What causes Raynaud’s phenomenon?

Doctors don’t know the exact cause of Raynaud’s. It’s possible that some blood
disorders may cause Raynaud’s by increasing the blood thickness. This may happen from
extra platelets or red blood cells. Or special receptors in the blood that control the
narrowing of the blood vessels may be more sensitive.

Who is at risk for Raynaud’s phenomenon?

Certain factors can increase your risk for Raynaud’s. They include:

  • A connective tissue or autoimmune disease
  • Chemical exposure
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Injury or trauma
  • Repetitive actions such as typing or using tools that vibrate such as a
    jackhammer
  • Side effects from certain medicines
  • Carpal
    tunnel syndrome
  • Being a
    woman

What are the symptoms of Raynaud’s phenomenon?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person. Common symptoms include:

  • Fingers
    that turn pale or white then blue when exposed to cold, or during stress or emotional
    upset.They turn red when the hands are warmed.
  • Hands that may become swollen and painful when warmed
  • In
    severe cases, sores on the finger pads
  • In rare
    cases, gangrene in the fingers that causes infection or needs amputation

How is Raynaud’s phenomenon diagnosed?

Your
healthcare provider will ask about your health history and do a physical exam. Your
provider may also do 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 healthcare
provider may also look at the tiny blood vessels in your fingernails 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.