Raynaud's (ray-NOHZ) disease is a condition that causes some areas of your body — such as your fingers, toes, the tip of your nose and your ears — to feel numb and cool in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud's disease, smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas.
Women are more likely to have Raynaud's disease. It's also more common in people who live in colder climates.
Treatment of Raynaud's disease depends on its severity and whether you have any other health conditions. For most people, Raynaud's disease is more a nuisance than a disability.
Raynaud's disease is more than simply having cold hands and cold feet, and it's not the same as frostbite. Signs and symptoms of Raynaud's depend on the frequency, duration and severity of the blood vessel spasms that underlie the disorder. Raynaud's disease symptoms include:
During an attack of Raynaud's, affected areas of your skin usually turn white at first. Then, the affected areas often turn blue, feel cold and numb, and your sense of touch is dulled. As circulation improves, the affected areas may turn red, throb, tingle or swell. The order of the changes of color isn't the same for all people, and not everyone experiences all three colors.
Occasionally, an attack affects just one or two fingers or toes. Attacks don't necessarily always affect the same digits. Although Raynaud's most commonly affects your fingers and toes, the condition can also affect other areas of your body, such as your nose, lips, ears and even nipples. An attack may last less than a minute to several hours.
People who have Raynaud's accompanied by another disease will likely also have signs and symptoms related to their basic underlying condition.
When to see a doctor
Raynaud's disease is a vascular disorder that causes intermittent interruption of blood flow to the extremities. The affected body part may turn white or blue and feel cold and numb until circulation ...
Doctors don't completely understand the cause of Raynaud's attacks, but blood vessels in the hands and feet appear to overreact to cold temperatures or stress:
Blood vessels in spasm
Cold temperatures are most likely to trigger an attack. Exposure to cold can be as simple as putting your hands under a faucet of running cold water, taking something out of the freezer or exposure to cold air. For some people, exposure to cold temperatures isn't necessary. Emotional stress alone can cause an episode of Raynaud's.
Raynaud's may be partly an inherited disorder.
Primary vs. secondary Raynaud's
Causes of secondary Raynaud's include:
Risk factors for primary Raynaud's include:
Risk factors for secondary Raynaud's include:
If Raynaud's is severe — which is rare — blood circulation to your fingers or toes could permanently diminish, causing deformities of your fingers or toes.
If an artery to an affected area becomes blocked completely, sores (skin ulcers) or dead tissue (gangrene) may develop. Ulcers and gangrene can be difficult to treat. In extreme untreated cases, your doctor may need to remove the affected part of your body (amputation).
Preparing for your appointment
Your family doctor or general practitioner will likely be able to diagnose Raynaud's based on a description of your signs and symptoms. In some cases, however, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in disorders of the joints, bones and muscles (rheumatologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect from your doctor.
Information to gather in advance:
If any additional questions occur to you during your visit, don't hesitate to ask. Some questions to consider include:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose Raynaud's, your doctor will ask detailed questions about your symptoms and medical history and conduct a physical examination. Your doctor may also run tests to rule out other medical problems that may cause similar signs and symptoms, such as a pinched nerve.
Sorting out primary vs. secondary Raynaud's
If your doctor suspects that another condition, such as an autoimmune or connective tissue disease, underlies Raynaud's, he or she may order blood tests, such as:
There's no single blood test to diagnose Raynaud's. Your doctor may order other tests, such as those that rule out diseases of the arteries, to help pinpoint a disease or condition that may be associated with Raynaud's.
Treatments and drugs
Self-care and prevention steps, such as dressing in layers or wearing gloves or heavy socks, usually are effective in dealing with mild symptoms of Raynaud's. If these aren't adequate, however, medications are available to treat more-severe forms of the condition. The goals of treatment are to:
You and your doctor may find that one drug works better for you than another. Some drugs used to treat Raynaud's have side effects that may require you to stop taking the medication. A drug may also lose effectiveness over time. Work with your doctor to find what works best for you.
Some medications actually can aggravate Raynaud's by leading to increased blood vessel spasm. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid taking:
If you have questions about how best to manage Raynaud's, contact your doctor. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a physician who specializes in treating Raynaud's.
Surgeries and medical procedures
Lifestyle and home remedies
A variety of steps can decrease Raynaud's attacks and help you feel better overall:
During an attack: What should you do?
If a stressful situation triggers an attack, you can help stop the attack by getting out of the stressful situation and relaxing. If you're trained in biofeedback, you can use this technique along with warming your hands or feet in water to help lessen the attack.
Lifestyle changes and supplements that encourage better circulation may be effective alternatives for managing Raynaud's. If you're interested, talk to your doctor about:
As with any supplement, be sure to talk to your doctor before adding it to your treatment regimen. Your doctor can warn you if there are any potential drug interactions or side effects of alternative treatments.
Coping with the stress and nuisance of Raynaud's takes patience and effort. Work with your doctor to manage your condition and maintain a positive attitude. The majority of people with Raynaud's respond to treatment.
Raynaud's is a condition that you may need to manage for life once it develops. But there are ways to help prevent attacks:
Last Updated: 2011-10-20
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