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Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Raynaud's Phenomenon Symptoms and Causes

About Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Raynaud's phenomenon or, simply, Raynaud's, is a disorder characterized by decreased blood flow — usually to the fingers, and less frequently to the ears, toes, nipples, knees, or nose. Vascular spasms usually occur as attacks in response to cold exposure, stress, or emotional upset.

Raynaud's can occur alone (primary form) or may occur with other diseases (secondary form). The diseases most frequently associated with Raynaud's are autoimmune or connective tissue diseases, among others, such as the following:

  • Systemic lupus erythematous (lupus)
  • Scleroderma
  • CREST syndrome (calcium skin deposits, Raynaud's phenomenon, esophageal dysmotility, sclerodactyly, telangiectasis)
  • Buerger's disease
  • Sjögren's syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Occlusive vascular disease
  • Polymyositis
  • Cryoglobulinemia

Raynaud’s Phenomenon Symptoms

The following are the most common symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • A pattern of color changes in the fingers as follows: pale/white followed by blue then red when the hands are warmed; color changes are usually preceded by exposure to cold or emotional upset
  • Hands may become swollen and painful when warmed
  • Ulcerations of the finger pads develop (in severe cases)
  • Gangrene may develop in the fingers leading to amputation (in about 10 percent of the severe cases)

Raynaud’s Phenomenon Causes

The exact cause of Raynaud's is unknown. One theory links blood disorders characterized by increased platelets or red blood cells that may increase the blood thickness. Another theory involves the special receptors in the blood that control the constriction of the blood vessels are shown to be more sensitive in individuals with Raynaud's.

There are certain diseases or lifestyle choices that can increase a person's risk for developing Raynaud's. These risk factors include the following:

  • Existing connective tissue or autoimmune disease
  • Cigarette smoking (in men)
  • Alcohol use (in women)