What Is Raynaud’s Phenomenon?
Raynaud’s phenomenon causes the blood vessels in the fingers and/or toes, and sometimes the ears, nose or nipples, to spasm when exposed to cold, resulting in a painful interruption of blood flow to those parts. It is a secondary condition associated with other underlying problems affecting certain arteries or related nerves. Raynaud’s phenomenon is typically more severe than Raynaud’s disease, a primary condition of unknown cause.
Raynaud’s phenomenon has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, certain blood disorders, Buerger’s disease, Sjögren’s syndrome, pulmonary hypertension and thyroid issues. Other risk factors include:
- Being 30 or older
- Workplace chemical exposure
- Taking certain medicines
- Hands or foot injuries
- Repetitive motion — Constant typing or the use of vibrating tools may trigger Raynaud’s.
- Living in a cold climate
Exposure to cold and emotional stress can trigger Raynaud’s symptoms, which can last from a minute to several hours and include:
- Changes in skin color — The fingers and/or toes, and sometimes other extremities, turn pale and then blue as blood flow is constricted, and then bright red when blood flow resumes.
- Numbness or pain in the affected parts — This is followed by throbbing, tingling or burning when the blood flow resumes.
- Skin sores or infection — This symptom can occur in severe cases.
- Gangrene — This rare complication can occur if affected tissue dies due to blood loss.
While Raynaud’s phenomenon is not curable, symptoms can be managed through:
- Self care — Wearing warm clothing, using hand/foot warmers and avoiding the cold altogether can ward off episodes.
- Lifestyle changes — Avoiding certain medications and practicing relaxation techniques, like yoga, can help prevent Raynaud’s symptoms.
- Medication — Some drugs, such as antihypertensive medications and calcium channel blockers, can ease symptoms by improving blood flow to the extremities.
- Nerve blocks — Surgery or shots can be used to prevent nerves from constricting the arteries to the hands and feet.
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