Raynaud's Phenomenon: Frequently Asked Questions
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a disorder in which small blood vessels in the fingers spasm, tightening up and decreasing blood flow. The vessels contract in response to cold temperatures, stress, or strong emotion. Raynaud’s phenomenon, which is also known as Raynaud’s disease or Raynaud’s syndrome, can also occur in the ears, toes, nipples, knees or nose. Here are some answers to key questions about the disease, named after the French physician who identified it in 1862.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes Raynaud’s phenomenon, but it can occur with certain autoimmune diseases. Raynaud’s may be due to a disorder that thickens the blood or makes blood vessels highly sensitive.
There are two types of Raynaud’s phenomenon. The most common is primary, when there is no other linked disease present. Secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon develops in association with another health condition. Primary Raynaud’s—often affecting young people (usually women) between the ages of 15 and 25—is typically milder than the secondary form.
If you have Raynaud’s phenomenon, your fingers or the affected area change color in cold weather or during stressful situations. They turn white and then blue, and as they warm back up, become red, swollen and painful. Some people have a feeling of pins and needles during an episode. In more serious cases, sores may appear on the fingertips or other areas or, rarely, become gangrenous, in which tissue dies.
Although secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon is associated with some autoimmune conditions, it is not an autoimmune disorder. Health conditions that are linked to secondary Raynaud’s include:
- Sjögren syndrome
Raynaud’s is rarely dangerous. In the most severe cases, if gangrene develops and is not treated, it can lead to amputation, but this is not common. Raynaud’s phenomenon can be uncomfortable and difficult to deal with, but doctors do not consider it a serious health threat.
Medication is not always necessary, but there are drugs that can treat Raynaud’s, such as blood pressure medicines that increase blood flow, particularly during the winter. Your doctor may recommend other medicines that increase blood flow, such as sildenafil or prostacyclins. Your doctor may prescribe topical creams if there are sores or ulcers. Some people find symptom relief with antidepressants, including selective-serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or cholesterol-lowering medications. There is no cure for Raynaud’s phenomenon, but it can usually be managed.
For secondary Raynaud’s, treating the underlying condition may reduce the frequency of Raynaud’s attacks.
You can help manage your Raynaud’s phenomenon by doing the following:
- Avoid the cold and keep your surroundings warm.
- Dress warmly with aids like insulating gloves, thick socks, and foot or hand warmers.
- Stop smoking—nicotine constricts blood vessels.
- Avoid repetitive actions like playing piano, typing, or using a jackhammer.
- Stay active.
- Practice stress-reduction techniques, such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness.