Understanding Raynaud’s Disease

Raynaud's Disease on Foot

by Dr. Emily Splichal, DPM MS

Approximately 3 – 5% of the population experience a circulatory condition referred to as Raynaud’s disease.  Associated with decreased blood flow to the fingers or toes, Raynaud’s phenomenon is most associated with periods of stress or cold exposure.   

Symptoms of Raynaud’s

During an acute attack symptoms typically go through three stages:

  • Stage 1 - Pallor (whiteness) may occur in response to the collapse of the arteries in an affected body part.
  • Stage 2 - Cyanosis (blueness) appears because the fingers or toes are not getting enough oxygen-rich blood. Other symptoms that occur during cyanosis are feeling cold and numbness.
  • Stage 3 - Rubor (redness) occurs as the blood returns to the affected areas. After an attack is over, throbbing and tingling may occur in the fingers and toes. Attacks of Raynaud's Phenomenon can last from less than a minute to several hours.

Although the cause of Raynaud’s is not completely understood, it is well accepted that symptoms are associated with spasm of the small blood vessels also known as capillaries.  

Cold temperatures, which cause vasoconstriction or narrowing of blood vessels, is the most common trigger to a Raynaud’s attack.  Other common causes include stress and cigarette smoking.

Raynaud's in Hand

Primary vs Secondary Raynaud’s

  • Primary Raynaud's or Raynaud's disease, is the most common form of Raynaud’s, making up almost 75% of the cases. It is not the result of another medical condition, is typically milder in nature and most patients never seek medical attention.   
  • Secondary Raynaud's or Raynaud's phenomenon, is caused by an underlying medical problem or side effect of certain medication. It is a less common form of Raynaud’s but tends to be more serious.   Some of the most common causes of secondary Raynaud’s include: smoking, frostbite, chemotherapy, connective tissue diseases and trauma. 

Treatment for Raynaud’s

Lifestyle management and prevention are the most common recommendations for those living with Raynaud’s disease or phenomenon.  

Avoiding extreme temperature changes, bundling up in colder weather, stress management and smoking cessation are some of the most effective preventive measures. 

If one does experience an acute attack, warming up the fingers or toes, using relaxation techniques and/or topical vasodilator medication are typically recommended.  

If you are concerned that you may have Raynaud’s disease we recommend seeing your primary care physician for a thorough evaluation.

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