Raynauds Disease

Raynaud’s is a rare disorder that affects the arteries. The disorder is marked by brief episodes of vasospasm (narrowing of the blood vessels).

Vasospasm of the arteries reduces blood flow to the fingers and toes. In people who have Raynaud’s, the disorder usually affects the fingers. In about 40 percent of people who have Raynaud’s, it affects the toes. Rarely, the disorder affects the nose, ears, nipples, and lips.

  • Primary Raynaud’s – the cause of Raynaud’s isn’t known.
  • Secondary Raynaud’s – a disease, condition, or other factor causes Raynaud’s.

Primary Raynaud’s is more common and tends to be less severe than secondary Raynaud’s.

About 5 percent of the North American population has Raynaud’s. Secondary Raynaud’s is more common in women than men.

If you have primary or secondary Raynaud’s, cold temperatures or stressful emotions can trigger “Raynaud’s attacks.” During an attack, little or no blood flows to affected body parts. As a result, the skin may turn white and then blue for a short time. As blood flow returns, the affected areas may turn red and may throb, tingle, burn, or feel numb.

In both types of Raynaud’s, even mild or brief changes in temperature can cause attacks. For example, taking something out of the freezer or being exposed to temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit can cause your fingers to turn blue.

Most people who have Raynaud’s have no long-term tissue damage or disability. However, people who have severe Raynaud’s can develop skin sores or gangrene from prolonged or repeated Raynaud’s attacks. “Gangrene” refers to the death or decay of body tissues.

For most people who have primary Raynaud’s, the disorder is more of a bother than a serious illness. They usually can manage the condition with minor lifestyle changes.

Secondary Raynaud’s may be harder to manage. However, several types of treatments are available to help prevent or relieve symptoms. With secondary Raynaud’s, it’s important to treat the underlying disease or condition that’s causing it.

Preventative measures include:

  • Avoiding environmental triggers, e.g. cold, vibration, etc.
  • Keep your hands, feet and head warm, especially your fingers, toes, ears and nose.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants and vasoconstrictors that have not been prescribed to you by your doctor.
  • Make sure all your doctors know about all the medicines you take and about all the OTC remedies you use, especially hormones and drugs that regulate hormones.
  • If you are diabetic, follow your diabetes treatment plan.

During an attack:

  • If white finger occurs unexpectedly and a source of warm water is available, allow tepid to slightly warm water to run over the affected digits while you gently massage the area. Continue this process until the white area returns to its normal, healthy color.
  • If triggered by exposure in a cold environment, and no warm water is available, place the affected digits in a warm body cavity – arm pit, crotch, or even in the mouth. Keep the affected area warm at least until the whiteness returns to its normal, healthy color. Get out of the cold as soon as possible.

Treatments include:

  • Drug therapy
  • Surgical Intervention – in severe cases, a sympathectomy procedure can be performed. Here, the nerves that signal the blood vessels of the fingertips to constrict are surgically cut.
  • Botox injections – for pain relief