Raynaud’s phenomenon is a common condition that affects the blood supply to certain parts of the body, usually the fingers and toes.
You may have heard of it referred to as Raynaud’s syndrome, Raynaud’s disease or just Raynaud’s.
Why does it happen?
The condition occurs because your blood vessels go into a temporary spasm which blocks the flow of blood. This causes the affected area to change colour to white, then blue and then red as the blood flow returns.
Raynaud’s is usually triggered by cold temperatures or by anxiety or stress.
You may also experience pain, numbness and pins and needles in the affected body parts. Symptoms can last from a few minutes to several hours.
It is not a serious threat to your health but can be annoying to live with because it makes fine movements of the fingers difficult. People with Raynaud’s often go for long periods without any symptoms and sometimes the condition goes away altogether.
Symptoms of Raynaud’s
The main symptoms of Raynaud’s are changes to the skin colour in the affected areas.
These changes to the skin usually happen in three stages:
- stage one: the affected body part turns white because blood supply is restricted
- stage two: it then turns blue due to lack of oxygen – during this phase the body part can feel cold and numb
- stage three: the body part turns red as the blood returns at a higher rate than normal – during this stage you may feel a tingling or throbbing sensation, and there may be some swelling in the affected body part
These symptoms gradually disappear as the flow of blood returns to normal.
An ‘attack’ of Raynaud’s can last from several minutes to several hours.
The most commonly affected areas of the body are the fingers and toes. Sometimes only a few fingers or toes may be affected. Other parts of the body that can be affected by Raynaud’s include the ears and nose.
In many cases it may be possible to control the symptoms of Raynaud’s yourself by avoiding the cold, wearing gloves and using relaxation techniques when feeling stressed.
Stopping smoking can also help improve symptoms, as smoking can affect your circulation.
If you are unable to control your symptoms yourself, then a medication called nifedipine may be recommended.
Types of Raynaud’s
There are two types of Raynaud’s. These are:
- primary – when the condition develops by itself (this is the most common type)
- secondary – when it develops in association with another health condition
Most cases of secondary Raynaud’s are associated with conditions that cause the immune system to attack healthy tissue (autoimmune conditions), such as:
- rheumatoid arthritis: when the immune system attacks the joints causing pain and swelling
- lupus: when the immune system attacks many different parts of the body causing a range of symptoms, such as tiredness, joint pain and skin rashes
The causes of primary Raynaud’s are unclear. However one in 10 people with primary Raynaud’s will go on to develop a condition associated with secondary Raynaud’s, such as lupus.
Your GP can help to determine whether you have primary or secondary Raynaud’s by examining your symptoms and carrying out blood tests.
Secondary Raynaud’s can cause a more severe restriction of blood supply so it does carry a higher risk of causing complications such as ulcers, scarring and even tissue death (gangrene) in the most serious cases. However, severe complications are rare.