Raynaud’s phenomenon is a rare condition in which your body does not send enough blood to the fingers, toes and occasionally the tip of nose and ears, causing them to feel cold and numb and turn white or blue. Raynaud’s patients often experience episodes of vasospasm, a narrowing of the blood vessels. Vasospasm reduces the flow of blood to the fingers and toes. Diminished blood supply to the digits causes the tissue to turn white. A prolonged lack of oxygen then causes the digits to turn blue. Once the blood vessels reopen, the fingers and toes often turn red and throb or swell.

There are two types of Raynaud’s phenomena – Primary Raynaud’s, also known as Raynaud’s disease, and Secondary Raynaud’s, known as Raynaud’s syndrome. Research has found substantial evidence that shows both types of Raynaud’s are genetic. The Mayo Clinic describes the difference in the types of Raynaud’s syndromes as:

  • Primary Raynaud’s does not have an underlying medical problem that could provoke vasospasm. This is the most common form of Raynaud’s, and is easily treated. The primary causes are changes in temperature and stress.
  • Secondary Raynaud’s is caused by an underlying health problem. Although it is less common than Primary Raynaud’s, it tends to be more serious and appear at later ages (40+).

Causes of Secondary Raynaud’s include diseases and conditions that damage the arteries or nerves that control the arteries in the hands and feet; injuries to the hands and feet; or exposure to certain chemicals and medicines that narrow the arteries or affect blood pressure. Because an attack of Primary Raynaud’s can end quickly, a doctor will typically make a diagnosis based upon the patient’s description of their symptoms. WebMD recommends taking color photographs of your hands during an attack that you can show your doctor. A physical examination, discussion of your medical history and blood tests can help diagnose Secondary Raynaud’s. Various treatment options are available, depending upon the type of Raynaud’s the patient has. General care can be taken to help prevent an attack of Primary Raynaud’s:

  • Environmental triggers should be avoided, e.g., cold, vibration, etc.
  • Emotional stress is another recognized trigger.
  • Extremities should be kept warm, •Smoking should be avoided.
  • Consumption of caffeine and other stimulants and vasoconstrictors must be prevented.
  • Raynaud’s may be aggravated by hormones and hormone regulators, such as hormonal contraception.

Contraception which is low in estrogen is preferable, and the progesterone only pill is often prescribed for women with Raynaud’s. Treatments for Secondary Raynaud’s are available to relieve symptoms, but most important, the underlying disease or condition should be the focus of treatment. The Raynaud’s Association states that approximately 5-10 percent of all Americans suffer from Raynaud’s, but only one out of five sufferers seek treatment. Both men and women suffer from Raynaud’s, but women are nine times more likely to be affected. The doctors at Orthopaedic Associates of Michigan have treated patients with both types of Raynaud’s. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact OAM at 616-459-7101 to schedule an appointment.

Sources: National Institutes of HealthThe Mayo Clinic, The Raynaud’s Association