What Is Raynaud’s Phenomenon?
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition in which blood flow to the small blood vessels in the fingers or toes is reduced in response to cold or stress. Although less common, blood vessels in other areas of the body, such as the nose, ears, or knees, can also be affected. Types of Raynaud’s phenomenon include primary Raynaud’s, which occurs independently of another medical condition, and secondary Raynaud’s, which occurs in conjunction with another health condition.
Symptoms of Raynaud’s phenomenon vary. During an episode, individuals with the condition may experience the following in the affected area(s):
- Cold sensations
- Pale, white, or blue skin (It should be noted that color changes to the skin may be difficult to discern, depending on the individual’s normal skin color.)
- Numb, prickly feelings as the skin begins to warm or upon stress relief
- Red, swollen skin or throbbing sensations when the blood vessels begin to relax
- In severe cases, development of sores on the affected area(s)
- In rare cases, complications of infection or gangrene (death of tissue)
Although the cause of Raynaud’s phenomenon is unknown, the symptoms can be explained. The body naturally conserves heat in response to cold by limiting blood flow to the extremities; the arteries that carry blood to places like the hands and feet narrow (vasospasm). With Raynaud’s phenomenon, the blood vessels in the affected area(s) spasm more quickly and more often than normal in response to cold or stress, which causes the feelings of numbness and the color changes to the skin.
- Nine times more common in those assigned female at birth than in those assigned male at birth
- Family history of Raynaud’s phenomenon
- Between ages 15 and 25 for primary Raynaud’s and after age 35 for secondary Raynaud’s
- In cases of secondary Raynaud’s, presence of certain medical conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren's syndrome, or scleroderma
- Medication use, such as certain medications for high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and cancer
- Repetitive actions, such as typing or playing an instrument, or use of vibrating tools, such as jackhammers
- Chemical exposure
- Injury or trauma to the area (e.g., frostbite, surgery, fracture, etc.)
- Cigarette smoking
- Residing in a cold climate