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Raynaud phenomenon

Raynaud phenomenon is a condition in which cold temperatures or strong emotions cause blood vessel spasms. This blocks blood flow to the fingers, toes, ears, and nose.

Causes

Raynaud phenomenon is called "primary" when it is not linked to another disorder. It most often begins in women younger than age 30. Secondary Raynaud phenomenon is linked to other conditions and usually occurs in people who are over age 30.

Common causes of secondary Raynaud phenomenon are:

Symptoms

Exposure to the cold or strong emotions bring on the changes.

  • First, the fingers, toes, ears, or nose become white, and then turn blue. Fingers are most commonly affected, but toes, ears or the nose can also change color.
  • When blood flow returns, the area becomes red and then later returns to normal color.
  • The attacks may last from minutes to hours.

People with primary Raynaud phenomenon have problems in the same fingers on both sides. Most people do not have much pain.

People with secondary Raynaud phenomenon are more likely to have pain or tingling in the fingers. Painful ulcers may form on the affected fingers if the attacks are very bad.

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider can often discover the condition causing Raynaud phenomenon by asking you questions and doing a physical exam.

Tests that may be done to confirm the diagnosis include:

  • Examination of the blood vessels in the fingertips using a special lens called nailfold capillary microscopy
  • Vascular ultrasound
  • Blood tests to look for arthritic and autoimmune conditions that may cause Raynaud phenomenon

Treatment

Taking these steps may help control Raynaud phenomenon:

  • Keep the body warm. Avoid exposure to cold in any form. Wear mittens or gloves outdoors and when handling ice or frozen food. Avoid getting chilled, which may happen after any active recreational sport.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking causes blood vessels to narrow even more.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Avoid taking medicines that cause blood vessels to tighten or spasm.
  • Wear comfortable, roomy shoes and wool socks. When outside, always wear shoes.

Your provider may prescribe medicines to dilate the walls of the blood vessels. These include topical nitroglycerin cream that you rub on your skin, calcium channel blockers, sildenafil (Viagra), and ACE inhibitors.

Low dose aspirin is often used to prevent blood clots. For severe disease, intravenous medicines, or surgery to cut nerves that cause spasm in the blood vessels, may be used.

It is vital to treat the condition causing Raynaud phenomenon.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome varies. It depends on the cause of the problem and how bad it is.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

  • Gangrene or skin ulcers may occur if an artery becomes completely blocked. This problem is more likely in people who also have arthritis or autoimmune conditions.
  • Fingers may become thin and tapered with smooth shiny skin and nails that grow slowly. This is due to the poor blood flow to the areas.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if:

  • You have a history of Raynaud phenomenon and the affected body part (hand, foot, or other part) becomes infected or develops a sore.
  • Your fingers change color, especially white or blue, when they are cold.
  • Your fingers or toes turn black or the skin breaks down.
  • You have a sore on the skin of your feet or hands which does not heal.
  • You have a fever, swollen or painful joints, or skin rashes.

Alternative Names

Raynaud's phenomenon; Sjögren syndrome - Raynaud; Rheumatoid arthritis - Raynaud; Systemic lupus erythematosus - Raynaud

References

Giglia JS. Raynaud's phenomenon. In: Cameron JL, Cameron AM, eds. Current Surgical Therapy. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:1047-1052.

Herrick AL, Muir L. Raynaud's phenomenon. In: Cronenwett JL, Johnston W, eds. Rutherford's Vascular Surgery. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 122.

James WD, Elston DM, McMohan PJ. Cutaneous vascular diseases. In: James WD, Elston DM, McMohan PJ, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin Clinical Atlas. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 35.

Sayeed SM, Ferri FF. Raynaud's phenomenon. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2017. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:1086.e1-1088.e1.

Review Date 4/24/2017

Updated by: Gordon A. Starkebaum, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.