Learn how this disease causes parts of your body, mainly fingers and toes, to numb, chill and possibly turn colors from cold temperatures or stress.
Raynaud's (ray-NOSE) disease causes some areas of your body — such as your fingers and toes — to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud's disease, smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin become narrow, limiting blood flow to affected areas (vasospasm).
Women are more likely than men to have Raynaud's disease, also known as Raynaud's or Raynaud's phenomenon or syndrome. It appears to be more common in people who live in colder climates.
Treatment of Raynaud's disease depends on its severity and whether you have other health conditions. For most people, Raynaud's disease isn't disabling, but it can affect your quality of life.
Signs and symptoms of Raynaud's disease include:
During an attack of Raynaud's, affected areas of your skin usually first turn white. Then, they often turn blue and feel cold and numb. As you warm and your circulation improves, the affected areas may turn red, throb, tingle or swell.
Although Raynaud's most commonly affects your fingers and toes, it can also affect other areas of your body, such as your nose, lips, ears and even nipples. After you warm up, the return of normal blood flow to the area can take 15 minutes.
See your doctor right away if you have a history of severe Raynaud's and develop a sore or infection in one of your affected fingers or toes.
Doctors don't completely understand the cause of Raynaud's attacks, but blood vessels in the hands and feet appear to overreact to cold temperatures or stress.
With Raynaud's, arteries to your fingers and toes become narrow and briefly limit blood supply when exposed to cold or stress. Over time, these small arteries can thicken slightly, further limiting blood flow.
Cold temperatures are most likely to trigger an attack. Exposure to cold, such as putting your hands in cold water, taking something from a freezer or being in cold air, is the most likely trigger. For some people, emotional stress can trigger an episode.
There are two main types of the condition.
Secondary Raynaud's. Also called Raynaud's phenomenon, this form is caused by an underlying problem. Although secondary Raynaud's is less common than the primary form, it tends to be more serious.
Signs and symptoms of secondary Raynaud's usually appear around age 40, later than they do for primary Raynaud's.
Causes of secondary Raynaud's include:
Risk factors for primary Raynaud's include:
Risk factors for secondary Raynaud's include:
If secondary Raynaud's is severe — which is rare — reduced blood flow to your fingers or toes could cause tissue damage.
A completely blocked artery can lead to sores (skin ulcers) or dead tissue, both of which can be difficult to treat. Rarely, extreme untreated cases might require removing the affected part of your body.
To help prevent Raynaud's attacks:
Bundle up outdoors. When it's cold, don a hat, scarf, socks and boots, and two layers of mittens or gloves before you go outside. Wear a coat with snug cuffs to go around your mittens or gloves, to prevent cold air from reaching your hands.
Also use chemical hand warmers. Wear earmuffs and a face mask if the tip of your nose and your earlobes are sensitive to cold.
Take precautions indoors. Wear socks. When taking food out of the refrigerator or freezer, wear gloves, mittens or oven mitts. Some people find it helpful to wear mittens and socks to bed during winter.
Because air conditioning can trigger attacks, set your air conditioner to a warmer temperature. Use insulated drinking glasses.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical examination. Your doctor might also order tests to rule out other medical problems that can cause similar signs and symptoms.
To tell the difference between primary and secondary Raynaud's, your doctor might do a test called nailfold capillaroscopy. During the test, the doctor looks at the skin at the base of your fingernail under a microscope or magnifier to look for deformities or swelling of the tiny blood vessels.
If your doctor thinks that another condition, such as an autoimmune disorder or a connective tissue disease, may be causing Raynaud's, he or she will likely order blood tests, such as:
No one blood test can diagnose Raynaud's. Your doctor might order other tests, such as those that rule out diseases of the arteries, to help pinpoint a condition that can be associated with Raynaud's.
Dressing for the cold in layers and wearing gloves or heavy socks usually are effective in dealing with mild symptoms of Raynaud's. Medications are available to treat more-severe forms of the condition. The goals of treatment are to:
Depending on the cause of your symptoms, medications might help. To widen blood vessels and increase blood flow, your doctor might prescribe:
If you have severe Raynaud's, your doctor may recommend surgery or injections.
Nerve surgery. Sympathetic nerves in your hands and feet control the opening and narrowing of blood vessels in your skin. Cutting these nerves interrupts their exaggerated responses.
Through small incisions in the affected hands or feet, a doctor strips these tiny nerves around the blood vessels. This surgery, if successful, might lead to fewer and shorter attacks.
A variety of steps can decrease Raynaud's attacks and help you feel better.
Warm your hands, feet or other affected areas. To gently warm your fingers and toes:
If stress triggers an attack, get out of the stressful situation and relax. Practice a stress-relieving technique that works for you, and warm your hands or feet in water to help lessen the attack.
Lifestyle changes and supplements that encourage better blood flow might help you manage Raynaud's. However, it's unclear how well these measures may work for Raynaud's. More study is needed. If you're interested, talk to your doctor about:
Biofeedback. Using your mind to control body temperature might help decrease the severity and number of attacks you experience. Biofeedback includes guided imagery to increase the temperature of hands and feet, deep breathing, and other relaxation exercises.
Your doctor may be able to suggest a therapist who can help you learn biofeedback techniques. There are books and videos on the subject.
Talk to your doctor before taking supplements. Your doctor can warn you if there are potential drug interactions or side effects of alternative treatments.
Your primary doctor will likely be able to diagnose Raynaud's based on your signs and symptoms. In some cases, however, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in disorders of the joints, bones and muscles (rheumatologist).
Here's information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Make a list of:
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you receive.
Questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, including:
December 24th, 2020