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Raynaud's Syndrome

Updated on April 27, 2018
Kayla DeSherlia profile image

Kayla is a 30 year old patient with a formal diagnosis of Primary Raynaud's Syndrome since 2012, although she has had symptoms for years.

What is Raynaud's Syndrome

Raynaud's Syndrome (disease, phenomenon) is a condition that will affect certain areas of the body, such as your face, toes, fingers, etc. It causes them to feel icy cold to the touch as well as numb when a person is stressed or is in cold temperatures. It can even cause finger and toe nails to become very brittle and have ridges that go from cuticle to the tip of the nail. The occurrence is caused by smaller or abnormal arteries that supply your blood to your skin, become narrow and constrict blood flow or circulation to the affected areas. This is also known as a Vasospasm. Maurice Raynaud discovered this particular syndrome in 1862.

Causes of Raynaud's Syndrome

Although, Raynaud's Syndrome is not fully understood by doctors, they do know that it causes arteries and blood vessels to overreact in stressful situations and cold temperatures. This usually happens within the hands and feet.

When the blood vessels or arteries begin to vasospasm, it will limit the blood supply to certain extremities. As time goes on, the arteries and vessels may thicken and cause further restriction of the blood flow.

Cold temperatures are usually the main cause of a Raynaud's Attack. When a person with Raynaud's places their hands into the freezer, grab a cold object, or cold water, is considered a possible trigger. For some people, stress can cause a Raynaud's Attack.

17 month old infant with Raynaud's Syndrome from Scotland.
17 month old infant with Raynaud's Syndrome from Scotland. | Source

Primary and Secondary Raynaud's Syndrome

Primary Raynaud's (also known as Raynaud's Disease) is a more common form of this syndrome. It isn't cause by any medical issues or medications that cause vasospasms.

Secondary Raynaud's(also known as Raynaud's Phenomenon) is cause by other issues. Although it may be less common than Primary Raynaud's, it can be a more serious issue. Secondary Raynaud's usually appears after a person is around 40 years old. Where Primary Raynaud's can begin at any time.

Causes of Primary Raynaud's

Primary Raynaud's is considered to be idiopathic or they started by themselves and are not caused by any other issue. Though many believe that Primary Raynaud's is basically being allergic to the cold. It usually starts in young women who are in their teens to beginning adulthood. It has been stated that Primary Raynaud's is hereditary, but no particular gene has been found to prove that.

Smoking can cause the attacks to be worse and happen more often due to a hormonal component.

Caffeine has been proven to cause attacks to be more severe as well.

Those who have chronic migraines or angina tend to be sufferers of Primary Raynaud's.

Patient with Primary Raynaud's has been dealing with symptoms for 32 years.
Patient with Primary Raynaud's has been dealing with symptoms for 32 years. | Source

Causes of Secondary Raynaud's

Secondary Raynaud's can be caused by various issues, some more serious than others.

Raynaud's Phenomenon can be caused by any disease that affects your blood vessels or arteries, like atherosclerosis where the blood vessels are clogged with plaque, Buerger's Disease where the vessels become inflamed in the feet and hands, or Primary Pulmonary Hypertension where high blood pressure affects the lung arteries.

Many people who have a rare disorder or disease that lead to scleroderma or scarring and hardening of the skin, usually have Raynaud's. Other skin issues like Sjogren's Syndrome, Lupus, and Rheumatoid Arthritis are at an increased risk of having Raynaud's Phenomenon.

People who have Carpal Tunnel can have their hand become susceptible to any cold temperatures and can have Raynaud Attacks.

Smoking can actually cause someone to have Secondary Raynaud's, due to the fact that it restricts the blood vessels.

If a person constantly types, plays instruments, or does repetitive motions for long intervals or operates power tools, can cause someone to begin to have Raynaud Attacks as well.

There are many different medications that can cause someone to have Secondary Raynaud's. Many medications that treat high blood pressure, migraine medications that have sumatriptan and ergotamine, ADHD/ADD medications, some chemotherapy drugs, and any medication that will cause arteries and blood vessels to constrict, like OTC medications have caused Raynaud's Syndrome.

Even having an injury to the feet or hands can cause Raynaud's, as well as being Anorexic.

Patient with Primary Raynaud's. Located in England.
Patient with Primary Raynaud's. Located in England. | Source

Do you or someone you know have Primary or Secondary Raynaud's Syndrome?

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Risk Factors of Primary Raynaud's

There are a few risk factors of Primary Raynaud's.

  • Age - Usually begins around 15- 30 years old.
  • Sex - Occurs in females more than males.
  • Family History - 1/3 of people who have been diagnosed with Primary Raynaud's have a primary family member who has it as well like a parent, sibling, or a child. Your family history can increase your risk of having Raynaud's.
  • Climate - People who live in colder climates find that it is more common to have Raynaud's.

Some extremities may also turn purple, dark purple, or almost black in color during an attack.
Some extremities may also turn purple, dark purple, or almost black in color during an attack. | Source

Are There Complications ?

If by some rare occurrence that Raynaud's becomes severe enough, the circulation in your toes and fingers could permanently be cut off, which will cause toe or finger deformities.

If an affected artery is completely blocked, you can develop gangrene or skin ulcers. Unfortunately skin ulcers and gangrene can be very hard to treat. When it is left untreated, in extreme cases, your doctor may amputate the affected area. They will only resort to this if the ulcers and gangrene are left untreated.

Prevention and treatment

There are a few goals in treating Raynauds. They are to prevent tissue damage, the severity and frequency of Raynaud's attacks, and treat any other issue you may have.

If you bundle up in cold weather and wear wool or heavy socks and gloves are usually the easiest way to treat mild symptoms of Raynaud's Syndrome. For the more severe cases there are usually medications that can be used.

Medications to Treat Raynauds

If your symptoms are severe enough, your doctor may treat Raynaud's with the help of medications. The medications are used to dilate your arteries and blood vessels and help circulation. You doctor may prescribe medications like :

  • Vasodilators. Such as Revatio and Viagra(sildernafil - E.D. medication), Cozaar(losartan- High Blood Pressure medication), Nitroglycerin( treatment for Skin Ulcers), Sarafem,Prozac,etc(Fluoxetine - Antidepressant medication). These medications are considered Vasiodilators. They relax the arteries and blood vessels to improve blood flow. They can even prescribe prostaglandins to help the symptoms of Raynaud's Syndrome.
  • Alpha blockers- such as Minipress(prazosin) and Cardura(doxazosin) which counteract the hormone norepinephrine, that constricts the arteries and blood vessels.
  • Calcium channel blockers. Such as Norvasc(amlodipine), Procardia, Afeditab CR), and Plendil(felodipine) can help not only heal the skin ulcers on toes and fingers but they can open the blood vessels, to decrease the severity and frequency of Raynaud attacks.

Be sure to discuss any worries about the side effects or if your medication seems to stop working with your doctor. You may find a solution that works best for you.

There are medications that can cause your Raynaud's to worsen, due to the fact that they increase the constriction of your blood vessels. Your doctor may state that you should avoid taking the following:

  • Beta Blockers. Such as medications used to treat heart disease and high blood pressure. That includes Corgard(nadolol), Toprol-XL and Lopressor(metoprolol), and InnoPran XL and Inderal( propranolol).
  • Certain OTC cold medications. This includes any medication that contains pseudoephedrine like Sudafed, Chlor-Trimeton, and many others.

Medical Procedures and Surgeries

There are some severe cases that need more advanced treatment and sometimes even surgery to correct the issue.

  • Nerve surgery. The sympathetic nerves that are in your feet and hands control the opening and constricting of arteries and blood vessels in the skin. When these nerves are cut, it helps destroy the overacted nerve response. A doctor will perform a Sympathectomy to reduce the attacks duration and frequency, but it doesn't always work as planned.

  • Chemical injection. A Doctor may give you the option to inject chemicals like local anesthetics or Botox (onabotulinumtoxin type A) to block sympathetic nerves in the affected areas such as your feet or hands. If the symptoms persist or return, you may need to repeat the procedure.

How to Prevent Raynaud Attacks

You can take certain steps to help Prevent having an Raynaud Attack.

  • Exercise. When you exercise you can increase your circulation, as well as other types of health benefits. If you suffer from Secondary Raynaud's, be sure to consult your doctor before doing any outdoors exercises in cold weather.
  • Control Your Stress. If you learn to avoid and recognize any type of stressful situation, it may help you to control the frequency and duration of your Raynaud Attacks.
  • DO NOT SMOKE. What many people do not know is that when you smoke, you are causing your skin temperature to decrease by narrowing your arteries and blood vessels which then can lead to having an attack. Being in an environment may also cause a Raynaud Attack.
  • Stay Away from Rapid Changing Temperatures. Try not to go from a humidly warm environment to an area with air conditioning. If you can, avoid the freezer and chilled/frozen food sections in stores.

Raynaud’s Phenomenon : What You Should Know

What should you do during a Raynaud's Attack?

Firstly, warm any affected areas.

If you want to warm your toes and fingers gently :

  • Get into a warmer area or indoors
  • Wiggle your toes and fingers
  • Put your hands under your armpits
  • Windmill your arms
  • Massage your feet and hands
  • Run WARM water not hot water over your toes and fingers

If stress is a cause of your attacks, avoid stressful situations and get away from that situation to relax. Practice stress relieving techniques that work just for you and warm your feet or hands in water to help the attack.


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