Raynaud’s disease is a condition that affects the blood vessels and restricts blood flow to areas of extremity in the body, such as the fingers and toes, ears, and nose.
It is estimated to affect approximately 20% of the adult population. Worldwide, women are more likely than men to suffer from Raynaud’s disease.
In breastfeeding mothers, Raynaud’s disease can affect the nipple, causing restricted blood circulation and nipple vasospasm.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article Vasospasm – Symptoms and Treatments For Vasospasm.
What is the difference between Raynaud’s disease, Raynaud’s syndrome, and Raynaud’s phenomenon?
Raynaud’s disease, Raynaud’s syndrome, and Raynaud’s phenomenon are all different names for the same condition.
Raynaud’s disease, Raynaud’s syndrome, and Raynaud’s phenomenon are all used to describe the spasm of blood vessels that causes a brief restriction of blood supply to the fingers and toes, or other affected areas of the body.
Depending on the source of your information, you might see the three terms used interchangeably.
The name ‘Raynaud’ belongs to the physician Auguste Gabriel Maurice Raynaud, who first described the phenomenon in his doctoral thesis as a condition in which the small blood vessels spasm, causing restricted blood flow to the end arterioles.
There are two different types of Raynaud’s disease:
- Primary Raynaud’s phenomenon
- Secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Symptoms of Raynaud’s disease
Symptoms of Raynaud’s disease can include the following:
- Cold fingers and toes
- Color changes in the fingers and toes (or other areas of extremity in the body) in response to cold temperatures. Affected areas of the body will often turn white (blanch) then turn red or blue
- Numbness, pins and needles, pain, or reduced sensation in the affected areas of the body.
The appearance of these symptoms can also be a response to emotional stress.
Raynaud’s syndrome causes – primary Raynaud’s phenomenon
Primary Raynaud’s phenomenon is the most common form of Raynaud’s.
Currently, there is no clear underlying cause for primary Raynaud’s; however, there is an increased risk if you have a family history. Around 25% of people with this condition have a family history of Raynaud’s.
If you are diagnosed with primary Raynaud’s, your healthcare provider might suggest blood tests to rule out an underlying health condition.
Hormones also help control blood flow in the body. This might be the reason why women experience Raynaud’s syndrome for the first time during the postpartum period or in early menopause.
Hormones can also affect our sensitivity to lower temperatures.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article Feeling Cold During Pregnancy – Is It Normal?
Blood tests can determine any abnormalities in hormone levels in the body.
Raynaud’s syndrome causes – secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon
Secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon is usually more serious and causes more severe symptoms than primary Raynaud’s.
It’s common for people with secondary Raynaud’s to have other health conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders, or another underlying disease.
Risk factors for developing secondary Raynaud’s include:
- Smoking. This constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow
- Use of certain medicines. Beta blockers, some chemotherapy agents, migraine medications, medicine used to treat high blood pressure and some other medications can cause the narrowing of blood vessels
- Prolonged use of vibrating tools – e.g. chainsaws, sanders, or hammer drills
- Atherosclerosis. This condition involves a narrowing of the arteries, caused by a build-up of fatty plaques, and can hamper blood flow to the extremities
- Frostbite. This is freezing of the skin and underlying body tissues
- Other diseases.
Raynaud’s and musculoskeletal and skin diseases
Raynaud’s phenomenon occurs in about 85-95% of patients with scleroderma and is present in about one-third of patients who have systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus).
Raynaud’s also can occur in patients who have other connective tissue diseases, including Sjögren’s syndrome, dermatomyositis, and polymyositis.
What is the best treatment for Raynaud’s?
You can help avoid primary Raynaud’s symptoms by knowing what the triggers are (cold or emotional stress) or when Raynaud’s attacks are likely to occur.
Rug up in cold weather. Lower skin temperature can cause blood vessels to narrow and trigger symptoms of Raynaud’s, so avoid exposing the affected body part to low temperatures.
Emotional stress causes blood vessels to narrow, which is why anxiety can trigger Raynaud’s phenomenon. Healthy living can help avoid unnecessary stress. Eating well and keeping active are two simple strategies you can use to help maintain your physical and emotional well-being.
For more tips, head to BellyBelly’s Health & Lifestyle section.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you are have any concerns about your mental health.
Magnesium deficiencies have been reported in some people with Raynaud’s disease. Patients with the primary form of Raynaud’s may be prescribed with a magnesium supplement to help reduce the severity of symptoms.
Calcium channel blockers are sometimes used for the treatment of secondary Raynaud’s. These medications help dilate small blood vessels and allow for easier blood flow back into the affected areas.
What happens if Raynaud’s disease goes untreated?
In most cases, Raynaud’s phenomenon is not serious. Although the spasms associated with restricted blood vessels can be very painful, they are not life-threatening.
People with the primary form of Raynaud’s might have a number of years without any symptoms or the condition might go away completely on its own.
In more severe cases, or in cases of secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon, there are greater risk factors for complications.
Secondary Raynaud’s can cause skin ulcers or skin sores. In rare cases of Raynaud’s disease, a completely blocked artery can lead to tissue damage or even tissue death. Dead tissue (or gangrene) is caused by a lack of blood flow to areas of the body (commonly the fingers and toes). Luckily, severe cases of Raynaud’s phenomenon are very rare.
Can Raynaud’s be cured?
People diagnosed with primary Raynaud’s phenomenon rarely develop other diseases associated with Raynaud’s.
The secondary form of Raynaud’s phenomenon is often caused by an underlying condition or disease, which might require treatment before the symptoms of Raynaud’s can also be treated.
These are the most effective ways to overcome Raynaud’s disease:
- Avoid triggers that cause the constriction of blood vessel (cold and emotional stress)
- Treat an attack promptly, by warming the affected areas of the body
- Quit smoking
- Manage stress
- Exercise regularly, to increase blood flow
- Eat a healthy diet
- Talk to your doctor.