Raynaud’s Disease

What is Raynaud’s Disease?

Raynaud’s Disease (also Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s syndrome) is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by color changes, loss of sensation and pain in the fingers and toes. It is classified as primary or secondary.

Primary Raynaud’s is thought to be at least partly congenital, but the cause is not fully understood. In both types the blood vessels in the affected areas become narrower (vasospasm) and circulation is drastically reduced. It strikes females more often than males and those in cooler locations.

The causes of secondary Raynaud’s syndrome can be far more serious and may include:

What are the Symptoms of Raynaud’s Disease?

The symptoms of Raynaud’s disease vary according to the severity of whatever it is that triggers the vasospasms. Symptoms may include:

  • Chilled fingers and/or toes
  • Fingers and/or toes go from pale to bluish or grayish
  • Fingers and/or toes become red and inflamed when circulation resumes
  • Stinging, prickly, throbbing and/or painful sensations while warming or when anxiety is relieved

Raynaud’s Disease Causes

Raynaud’s disease is an affliction caused by the constriction of blood vessels, usually in response to an external stimulus, particularly in the fingers and toes. This phenomenon results in numbing and discomfort of those appendages.

There are two forms of Raynaud’s disease. Primary Raynaud’s occurs on its own, most often in women. It is also the most common form of the condition. Secondary Raynaud’s is less common and occurs in conjunction with another health issue that causes the reduction of blood flow to the extremities.

Causes of Raynaud’s disease vary, but is generally associated with the body’s overreaction to cold or stress. Secondary Raynaud’s (also called ‘Raynaud’s phenomenon’) is more serious and can result in permanent tissue damage. It can be triggered by other health conditions including coronary artery disease, connective tissue conditions (such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis), or carpal tunnel syndrome. Certain medications have also been linked to the onset of Raynaud’s disease. It can also be caused by other factors such as work that involves repetitive motions of the hands or feet.

How is Raynaud’s Disease Treated?

Treating secondary Raynaud’s syndrome involves treating the underlying cause. In any case, it is extremely important to prevent tissue damage by making specific lifestyle changes and avoiding triggers. Treatment may include:

  • Keeping the hands and feet warm and protected
  • Exercises to improve circulation to fingers and toes
  • Prescription medications to enlarge blood vessels and boost circulation
  • Chemical nerve block injections
  • Stress avoidance
  • Smoking cessation
  • Caffeine avoidance
  • Surgery (sympathectomy)
  • Amputation is rare

Raynaud’s Disease Prevention

Primary Raynaud’s disease is often quite mild and no real preventative measures are necessary, other than avoiding extreme cold or reducing stress. Smoking can also contribute to Raynaud’s, so quitting smoking would be helpful.

For patients suffering from Raynaud’s phenomenon that is caused by complications from carpal tunnel syndrome or other repetitive injury related conditions, treatment for those conditions and changing the physical activity associated with it may prevent the onset of Raynaud’s.

For Raynaud’s that has been triggered by use of medication, obviously avoiding those medications should prevent further attacks and complications from the disease. As with most health conditions, a healthy lifestyle, which would help prevent coronary artery disease and other contributing illnesses, would help prevent the onset of Raynaud’s disease. Regular exercise also helps ensure robust cardiovascular health, which helps prevent the unnatural constriction of those blood vessels to the extremities.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
June 11, 2018