Raynaud’s Phenomenon : Get Facts on Causes and Treatment

This rare condition, sometimes called ‘Raynaud’s disease,’ may exist alone (called ‘primary’) or may occur due to an underlying condition (called ‘secondary’). Let’s explore this unusual disorder’s effect on your health.

WHAT IS RAYNAUD’S PHENOMENON?

Raynaud’s disease affects the way your arteries work. The arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. Raynaud’s phenomenon usually affects arteries that supply oxygen to the hands, feet and skin.

In people who have Raynaud’s, these arteries go into spasm under certain conditions, which limits the amount of blood flow to a specific area, such as the fingertips. Usually, these spasms clear up on their own within a few minutes. Exposure to cold often is the primary culprit in setting off an episode of Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Researchers estimate about 5% of the adult population of the United States has Raynaud’s.

CAUSES OF RAYNAUD’S PHENOMENON

Researchers don’t know what causes primary Raynaud’s. This condition occurs alone, in the absence of any other cause.

Secondary Raynaud’s may be related to repetitive motion injuries to the hands, chemical exposure of the hands or feet, medications used to control blood pressure or diseases that damage the nerves of the hands or feet. Raynaud’s phenomenon also is linked to underlying diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma and Sjogren’s disease.

SYMPTOMS OF RAYNAUD’S PHENOMENON

Most people experience symptoms in their hands and feet. Occasionally, the nipples, lips, nose or exterior portions of the ear are affected. When Raynaud’s strikes (called an ‘attack’), you may temporarily experience these symptoms:

  • The affected area of skin turns white, pale or bluish
  • The area feels painful, cold or numb
  • The skin subsequently turns red with burning or throbbing as the blood returns

An attack of Raynaud’s can last a minute, or it may last for several hours. Attacks can happen frequently (daily) or infrequently (once a year). The attacks may only occur due to a trigger, such as exposure to cold, or they may happen suddenly with no known cause.

TREATMENT FOR RAYNAUD’S PHENOMENON

You can’t prevent Raynaud’s. If you have it, you have it for life. The goal of Raynaud’s treatment is to minimize or manage the triggers of a Raynaud’s attack. Take these steps to try reducing the number of attacks you experience?

  • Stay warm. Wear a hat, gloves and thick socks to protect the areas most commonly affected by Raynaud’s. In addition, keep your whole body warm to promote adequate blood flow away from your core (chest area) to the skin, hands and feet.
  • Wear gloves when handling cold or frozen food if this activity triggers an attack for you.
  • Wear a sweater in air conditioned environments.
  • Engage in stress-reduction activities like meditation or yoga. Stress can cause your blood vessels to constrict, which can set of a Raynaud’s attack.
  • Limit consumption of caffeine, which constricts blood vessels.
  • Quit smoking. Studies show smoking makes Raynaud’s disease worse.
  • Exercise. Physical activity increases blood flow throughout the body.
  • Perform a medication check with your pharmacist or healthcare provider. Certain medications, including over-the-counter allergy medications, can worsen Raynaud’s.
  • Rarely, you may need medication or surgery to control your Raynaud’s attacks. This is very uncommon.

LIVE WELL WITH RAYNAUD’S PHENOMENON

For most people, Raynaud’s phenomenon represents a nuisance, not a life-threatening condition. If you suspect you have Raynaud’s, check with your healthcare provider to get a diagnosis and learn more about how to live well with this unusual condition.

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