Raynaud's Disease

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Raynaud's Disease


Raynaud's disease refers to a disorder in which the fingers or toes (digits) suddenly experience decreased blood circulation. It is characterized by repeated episodes of color changes of the skin of digits on cold exposure or emotional stress.


Raynaud's disease can be classified as one of two types: primary (or idiopathic) and secondary (also called Raynaud's phenomenon). Primary Raynaud's disease has no predisposing factor, is more mild, and causes fewer complications. About half of all cases of Raynaud's disease are of this type. Women are five times more likely than men to develop primary Raynaud's disease. The average age of diagnosis is between 20 and 40 years. Approximately three out of ten people with primary Raynaud's disease eventually progress to secondary Raynaud's disease after diagnosis. About 15% of individuals improve.

Secondary Raynaud's disease is the same as primary Raynaud's disease, but occurs in individuals with a predisposing factor, usually a form of collagen vascular disease. What is typically identified as primary Raynaud's is later identified as secondary once a predisposing disease is diagnosed. This occurs in approximately 30% of patients. As a result, the secondary type is often more complicated and severe, and is more likely to worsen.

Several related conditions that predispose persons to secondary Raynaud's disease include scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and polymyositis. Pulmonary hypertension and some nervous system disorders such as herniated discs and tumors within the spinal column, strokes, and polio can progress to Raynaud's disease. Finally, injuries due to mechanical trauma caused by vibration (such as that associated with chain saws and jackhammers), repetitive motion (carpal tunnel syndrome ), electrical shock, and exposure to extreme cold can led to the development of Raynaud's disease. Some drugs used to control high blood pressure or migraine headaches have been known to cause Raynaud's disease.

The prevalence of Reynaud's Phenomena in the general population varies 4-15%. Females are seven times more likely to develop Raynaud's diseases than are men. The problem has not been correlated with coffee consumption, dietary habits, occupational history (excepting exposure to vibration) and exposure to most drugs. An association between Raynaud's disease and migraine headaches and has been reported. Secondary Raynaud's disease is common among individuals systemic lupus erythematosus in tropical countries.

Causes and symptoms

There is significant familial aggregation of primary Raynaud's disease. However, no causative gene has been identified.

Risk factors for Raynaud's disease differ between males and females. Age and smoking seem to be associated with Raynaud's disease only in men, while the associations of marital status and alcohol use with Raynaud's disease are usually only observed in women. These findings suggest that different mechanisms influence the expression of Raynaud's disease in men and women.

Both primary and secondary Raynaud's disease signs and symptoms are thought to be due to arterioles over-reacting to stimuli. Cold normally causes the tiny muscles in the walls of arteries to contract, thus reducing the amount of blood that can flow through them. In people with Raynaud's disease, the extent of constriction is extreme, thus severely restricting blood flow. Attacks or their effects may be brought on or worsened by anxiety or emotional distress.

There are three distinct phases to an episode of Raynaud's disease. When first exposed to cold, small arteries respond with intense contractions (vasoconstriction). The affected fingers or toes (in rare instances, the tip of the nose or tongue) become pale and white because they are deprived of blood and, thus, oxygen. In response, capillaries and veins expand (dilate). Because these vessels are carrying deoxygenated blood, the affected area then becomes blue in color. The area often feels cold and tingly or numb. After the area begins to warm up, the arteries dilate. Blood flow is significantly increased. This changes the color of the area to a bright red. During this phase, persons often describe the affected area as feeling warm and throbbing painfully.

Raynaud's disease may initially affect only the tips of fingers or toes. As the disease progresses, it may eventually involve all of one or two digits. Ultimately, all the fingers or toes may be affected. About one person in ten, will experience a complication called sclerodactyly. In sclerodactyly, the skin over the involved digits becomes tight, white, thick, smooth and shiny. In approximately 1% of cases of Raynaud's disease, deep sores (ulcers) may develop in the skin. In rare cases of frequent, repetitive bouts of severe ischemia (decreased supply of oxygenated blood to tissues or organs), tissue loss, or gangrene may result and amputation may be required.


Primary Raynaud's disease is diagnosed following the Allen Brown criteria. There are four components. The certainty of the diagnosis and severity of the disease increase as more criteria are met. The first is that at least two of the three color changes must occur during attacks provoked by cold and or stress. The second is that episodes must periodically occur for at least two years. The third is that attacks must occur in both the hands and the feet in the absence of vascular occlusive disease. The last is that there is no other identifiable cause for the Raynaud's episodes.

A cold stimulation test may also be performed to help to confirm a diagnosis of Raynaud's disease. The temperature of affected fingers or toes is taken. The hand or foot is then placed completely into a container of ice water for 20 seconds. After removal from the water, the temperature of the affected digits is immediately recorded. The temperature is retaken every five minutes until it returns to the pre-immersion level. Most individuals recover normal temperature within 15 minutes. People with Raynaud's disease may require 20 minutes or more to reach their pre-immersion temperature.

Laboratory testing is performed frequently. However, these results are often inconclusive for several reasons. Provocative testing such as the ice emergence just described, is difficult to interpret because there is considerable overlap between normal and abnormal results. The antinuclear antibody test of blood is usually negative in Raynaud's disease. Capillary beds under finger nails usually appear normal. Erythrocyte sedimentation rates are often abnormal in people with connective tissue diseases. Unfortunately, this finding is not consistent in people with Raynaud's disease.


There is no known way to prevent the development of Raynaud's disease. Further, there is no known cure for this condition. Therefore, avoidance of the trigger is the best supportive management available. Most cases of primary Raynaud's disease can be controlled with proper medical care and avoidance.

Many people are able to find relief by simply adjusting their lifestyles. Affected individuals need to stay warm, and keep their hands and feet well covered in cold weather. Layered clothing, scarves, heavy coats, heavy socks, and mittens under gloves are suggested because gloves alone allow heat to escape. It is also recommended that patients cover or close the space between their sleeves and mittens. Indoors, they should wear socks and comfortable shoes. Smokers should quit as nicotine will worsen the problem. Avoid the use of vibrating tools as well.

People with severe cases of Raynaud's disease may need to be treated with medications to help keep the arterioles relaxed and dilated. Medications such as calcium-channel blockers, reserpine or nitroglycerin may be prescribed to relax artery walls and improve blood flow.

Alternative Treatment

Because episodes of Raynaud's disease have also been associated with stress and emotional upset, the condition may be improved by learning to manage stress. Regular exercise is known to decrease stress and lower anxiety. Hypnosis, relaxation techniques, and visualization are also useful methods to help control emotions.

Biofeedback training is a technique during which a patient is given continuous information on the temperature of his or her digits, and then taught to voluntarily control this temperature. Some alternative practitioners believe that certain dietary supplements and herbs may be helpful in decreasing the vessel spasm of Raynaud's disease. Suggested supplements include vitamin E (found in fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts), magnesium (found in seeds, nuts, fish, beans, and dark green vegetables), and fish oils. The circulatory herbs cayenne, ginger and prickly ash may help enhance circulation to affected areas.


The prognosis for most people with Raynaud's disease is very good. In general, primary Raynaud's disease has the best prognosis, with a relatively small chance (1%) of serious complications. Approximately half of all affected individuals do well by taking simple precautions, and never require medication. The prognosis for people with secondary Raynaud's disease (or phenomenon) is less predictable. This prognosis depends greatly on the severity of other associated conditions such as scleroderma, lupus, or Sjögren syndrome.


There is no way to prevent the development of Raynaud's disease. Once an individual realizes that he or she suffers from this disorder, however, steps can be taken to reduce the frequency and severity of episodes.


Arteriole The smallest type of artery.

Artery A blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart to peripheral tissues.

Gangrene Death of a tissue, usually caused by insufficient blood supply and followed by bacterial infection of the tissue.

Idiopathic Of unknown origin.

Polymyositis An inflammation of many muscles.

Pulmonary hypertension A severe form of high blood pressure caused by diseased arteries in the lung.

Rheumatoid arthritis Chronic, autoimmune disease marked by inflammation of the membranes surrounding joints.

Scleroderma A relatively rare autoimmune disease affecting blood vessels and connective tissue that makes skin appear thickened.

Systemic lupus erythematosus A chronic inflammatory disease that affects many tissues and parts of the body including the skin.



Rosenwasser, Lanny J. "The Vasaculitic Syndromes." In Cecil Textbook of Medicine. Lee Goldman, et al., editors. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2000, pp. 1524-1527.


Fraenkel, L., et al. "Different Factors Influencing the Expression of Raynaud's Phenomenon in Men and Women." Arthritis and Rheumatology 42, no. 2 (February 1999): 306-310.

Voulgari, P. V., et al. "Prevalence of Raynaud's Phenomenon in a Healthy Greek Population." Annals of Rheumatic Disease 59, no. 3 (March 2000): 206-210.


American Heart Association. 7320 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX 75231-4596. (214) 373-6300 or (800) 242-8721. [email protected] http://www.americanheart.org.

Irish Raynaud's and Scleroderma Society. PO Box 2958 Foxrock, Dublin 18, Ireland (01) 235 0900. [email protected]

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. PO Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105. (301) 592-8573. [email protected] http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov.

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). PO Box 8923, New Fairfield, CT 06812-8923. (203) 746-6518 or (800) 999-6673. Fax: (203) 746-6481. http://www.rarediseases.org.

Raynaud's & Scleroderma Association (UK). 112 Crewe Road, Alsager, Cheshire, ST7 2JA. UK (44) (0) 1270 872776. [email protected] http://www.raynauds.demon.co.uk.


Arthritis Foundation. http//www.arthritis-foundation.com/.

British Sjögren's Syndrome Association. http://ourworld.copmpuserve.com/homepages/BSSAssociation.

Raynaud's & Scleroderma Association. http://www.Raunaud's.demon.co,uk/.

Rodriguez, J., and S. Wasson. "Raynaud's Disease." Wayne State University School of Medicine. http://www.med.wayne.edu/raynauds/.

Raynaud’s Disease

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Raynauds Disease

What Is Raynauds Disease?

What Is Raynauds Phenomenon?

Who Is at Risk for Raynauds Phenomenon?

What Are the Symptoms of Raynauds Disease?

What Is the Treatment for Raynauds Disease?

How Can Raynauds Disease Be Prevented?

Raynauds disease is a disorder in which the vessels that supply blood to the fingers and toes (the digits) contract, causing the fingers and toes to turn white, feel numb, tingle, or burn.


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Circulatory system

What Is Raynauds Disease?

In this condition, the arteries that supply blood to the fingers and toes respond to cold or other stimuli by going into spasm (contracting), reducing the supply of blood to the digits and turning them white. When there is no specific reason found for this contracting, the condition is called Raynauds disease. It can appear at any age, but it occurs most often between the ages of 20 and 40 and affects females more than males.

What Is Raynauds Phenomenon?

Raynauds phenomenon has the same symptoms as Raynauds disease, but its cause is known to be another disease. Diseases that can cause Raynauds phenomenon include rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, and scleroderma, which are all chronic (long-lasting) disorders of the connective tissue*. Other possible causes include atherosclerosis (in which large arteries are blocked by fat deposits) and Buergers disease (in which small arteries in fingers and toes are blocked by inflammation).

* connective tissue,
which helps hold the body together, is found in skin, joints and bones.

Who Is at Risk for Raynauds Phenomenon?

People in certain occupations are at higher risk for Raynauds phenomenon. Anyone whose work involves the constant and repetitive use of the fingers or who uses tools that vibrate, such as a jack hammer or chain saw, are at increased risk. People with medical conditions that affect small arteries, have certain neurological conditions, or connective tissue diseases such as lupus or scleroderma, are at risk as well. Smoking may trigger or worsen spasms in blood vessels.

What Are the Symptoms of Raynauds Disease?

In Raynauds disease, a persons fingers and toes first turn white or blue when they become cold because the necessary amount of blood is not reaching them. When they turn red it is a sign that blood is flowing normally again.

When people get an attack of Raynauds disease, their fingers and toes may feel numb or tingle and burn. In severe (but rare) cases the restriction of the arteries causes the fingers to thicken, which can lead to ulcerations (loss of tissue) at the finger tips as well as changes in the fingernails. In the worst case, gangrene (tissue death) can occur.

What Is the Treatment for Raynauds Disease?

Raynaud s disease can be effectively treated with medications that prevent the constriction of the blood vessels. Some ointments or creams can also be prescribed to soften the skin, though this will not help to prevent attacks. The doctor diagnoses the condition by taking a careful history from the patient. Advice on preventing flare-ups of Raynaud s can help the person avoid further episodes. In severe cases, surgery may be required to cut the nerves that control the contraction and dilation of the blood vessels.

How Can Raynauds Disease Be Prevented?

Although Raynauds disease may not be completely preventable in people who are susceptible to the disorder, there are some preventive measures a person can take. Some of the dos and donts for people who experience Raynauds are:

  • Stop smoking . Cigarettes constrict (close up) blood vessels.
  • Avoid high-risk activities . Vibrating machinery, like pneumatic drills and chain saws, can trigger an attack of Raynauds disease. Excessive typing and piano playing also involve repetitive finger motion and can trigger the disease.
  • Avoid substances that are known to trigger Raynauds . Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other substances may trigger an attack.
  • Wear layered clothing to retain warmth, since exposing the face or forehead to cold can trigger an attack.
  • Wear gloves or mittens to protect against cold.

See also



Raynauds disease

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Ray·naud's dis·ease / rāˈnōz/ (also Ray·naud's syn·drome) • n. a disease characterized by spasm of the arteries in the extremities, esp. the fingers (Raynaud's phenomenon). It is typically brought on by constant cold or vibration, and leads to pallor, pain, numbness, and in severe cases, gangrene.

Raynaud's disease

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Raynaud's disease (ray-nohz) n. a condition of unknown cause in which the arteries of the fingers are unduly reactive and enter spasm when the hands are cold. This produces attacks of pallor, numbness, and discomfort in the fingers. Gangrene or ulceration of the fingertips may result. Warm gloves and peripheral vasodilators may relieve the condition. R. phenomenon a similar condition resulting from atherosclerosis, ingestion of ergot derivatives, or use of vibrating tools. [ M. Raynaud (1834–81), French physician]