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Raynaud's Phenomenon

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. 

Risk Factors

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
  • Smoking
  • 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

Symptoms

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.

Treatment Options

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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