What is Raynaud’s phenomenon?
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition that causes the blood vessels in the hands and feet to narrow, decreasing blood flow. When this happens, parts of the body—usually the fingers and toes—become cold and numb, and change color (usually, to white or blue). An attack usually happens from exposure to cold or stress.
Who gets Raynaud’s phenomenon?
Anyone can get Raynaud’s phenomenon, but some people are more likely to have it than others. It is more common in:
- People who have a family history of the condition.
- People who live in a cold climate.
Other factors include having other diseases or conditions and taking certain medications.
What are the types of Raynaud’s phenomenon?
There are two types of Raynaud’s phenomenon.
- Primary Raynaud's phenomenon is the more common form. Doctors do not know what causes this type.
- Secondary Raynaud's phenomenon is usually caused by another disease or problem, such as a disease like lupus or scleroderma. Exposure to cold or certain chemicals may also cause this type of Raynaud’s. The secondary form can be more serious than the primary form.
What are the symptoms of Raynaud’s phenomenon?
Raynaud’s phenomenon happens when “attacks” affect parts of the body, especially the fingers and toes. The attack causes the fingers and toes to turn pale or white and become cold and numb. Getting cold is the most common trigger, such as when you grab a glass of ice water or take something out of the freezer. Entering an air-conditioned building on a warm day also can lead to an attack.
An attack may last a few minutes or a few hours, and pain levels during the attack can vary. When you warm up, your skin may tingle or burn.
For many people, especially those with the primary form of Raynaud’s phenomenon, the symptoms are mild. People with the secondary form tend to have more severe symptoms.
What causes Raynaud’s phenomenon?
Doctors do not know exactly why Raynaud’s phenomenon develops in some people. They do understand that attacks usually happen when people with Raynaud’s phenomenon are exposed to cold or stress.
Is there a test for Raynaud’s phenomenon?
There is no single test to diagnose Raynaud’s phenomenon. Doctors usually diagnose it based on symptoms. Your doctor may:
- Take a medical history.
- Do a physical exam.
- Order blood and other lab tests to help decide which type of the condition you have.
How is Raynaud’s phenomenon treated?
Most people with Raynaud’s phenomenon can keep symptoms under control by avoiding getting cold. In some cases, medications and surgery can help.
Secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon usually needs aggressive therapy. If you have the secondary form, you may need treatment for an underlying condition.
Who treats Raynaud’s phenomenon?
Raynaud’s phenomenon is primarily treated by:
- Rheumatologists, doctors who treat diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones. They treat Raynaud’s phenomenon because it sometimes occurs in association with rheumatic diseases, like lupus.
Other specialists who may be involved in your care include:
- Cardiologists, who specialize in treating heart and blood vessel problems.
- Dermatologists, who specialize in conditions of the skin, hair, and nails.
- Mental health professionals, who can help people cope with difficulties in the home and workplace that may result from their medical conditions.
- Primary care doctors, such as family physicians or internal medicine specialists, who coordinate care between the different health care providers and treat other problems as they arise.
- Surgeons, including hand specialists, who may be orthopaedists, plastic surgeons, or vascular surgeons.
Living with Raynaud’s phenomenon
Most people can control Raynaud’s phenomenon by making lifestyle changes. The following tips can decrease the number of attacks you have and how bad they are.
- Keeping your hands and feet, as well as your entire body, warm is important.
- If it is cold outside, try not to go out.
- If you go out when it is cold, dress warmly, wearing several layers of clothing. Be sure to use a hat or hood. Consider heated gloves or hand warmers.
- Protect your hands with gloves when you handle cold or frozen items.
- Bring a sweater or jacket if you go somewhere that may be air-conditioned.
- If you smoke or vape, talk to your doctor about making a plan to quit. Nicotine can increase the chance of an attack.
- Some medications can bring on attacks, so talk to your doctor about those you take and before starting any new ones.
- If an attack occurs, place your hands or feet in a warm place, such as under warm (not hot) water or under a heating pad. You can also warm your hands by whirling your arms in a windmill pattern or placing them under your armpits.
- Because stress can bring on an attack, learning how to manage it is important. Meditation, deep breathing, or other relaxation techniques may help. Seek help from a mental health professional if you still have high stress levels.
Remember to visit your health care providers regularly and to follow their recommendations.