Raynaud's disease is a problem with small blood vessels in the skin. During an attack of Raynaud's, these blood vessels get narrower, which means that less blood flows to the skin. The skin first turns white, then blue. Then the skin turns red as the vessels relax and blood flow is better again. Hands and feet are most commonly affected, but Raynaud's disease can affect other areas, such as the nose and ears.
Women between the ages of 15 and 50 are most likely to have the problem, but it can affect anyone.
For most people, an attack is usually triggered by emotional stress or exposure to cold. For example, reaching into a refrigerator may trigger an attack.
There are 2 forms of Raynaud's disease.
Smoking and drugs can also cause secondary Raynaud’s disease. Examples of drugs that might cause it are beta blockers used to treat high blood pressure, ergotamine medicines used for migraine headaches, anticancer drugs, nonprescription cold medicines, and narcotics.
Also, injuries from frostbite, surgery, or some jobs may cause Raynaud's disease. Some workers in the plastics industry who are exposed to vinyl chloride develop a scleroderma-like illness and have Raynaud's disease. Regular use of machinery such as chain saws, jackhammers, and vibrating drills can hurt blood vessels.
It is common for the area to throb or feel numb, tingly, or painful as it warms up again or as stress is relieved.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and examine you. You may have blood tests. Depending on your history and exam, your provider may check for diseases or other conditions that cause secondary Raynaud's.
Most healthcare providers recommend trying nondrug treatments and self-help measures first, as described below in the section on taking care of yourself.
Several kinds of medicines may be used to treat severe Raynaud's symptoms. They all improve circulation. Types of drugs that might be prescribed are calcium channel blockers, alpha blockers, and vasodilators. Nitroglycerin paste, which is put on the fingers, helps improve your circulation and heal any sores on the skin (caused, for example, by cuts or bug bites).
Drugs that help at first may get less effective over time. Women of childbearing age should know that the medicines used to treat Raynaud's disease might affect the baby. If you are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, talk with your healthcare provider before taking these medicines.
If you are taking a new medicine that seems to be causing Raynaud's disease or making your existing Raynaud’s disease worse, let your provider know. You may need to change your medicine or dosage.
Each attack of symptoms usually lasts for just a few minutes, but some may last more than an hour.
Raynaud's disease cannot be cured, but most people are able to manage the symptoms.
For more information, you may wish to contact:
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Phone: 877-22-NIAMS (226-4267)
Web site: http://www.niams.nih.gov