What is Raynaud's phenomenon?

Marie D. Gerhard-Herman, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Raynaud's affects blood vessels, mostly in fingers and toes. Stress or cold narrows vessels, causing cold, numb and discolored extremities. Learn more from cardiovascular medicine specialist Marie Gerhard-Herman, MD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Paula Rackoff, MD

Raynaud's phenomenon is poor circulation to the hands; it's beyond cold intolerance in that it causes pain, tingles and color changes in the fingers. In this video, rheumatologist Paula Rackoff, MD, describes this painful condition.

Alec O. Hochstein, DPM
Podiatric Medicine
Raynaud’s phenomenon (RP) is a common, benign vascular disorder characterized by episodes of constriction of very small arteries in the toes and fingers, usually in response to cold temperatures or stress. Symptoms in the fingers and toes include unusual paleness and/or a red or bluish color to the skin. Occasionally other parts of the body are affected including the nose, ears, and/or tongue. RP does not usually occur in association with any other underlying disorder and may also be referred to as primary Raynaud’s disease.

RP most frequently affects women, especially in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. The causes of RP are unknown. Commonly, RP manifests itself when you see your fingers and toes go through a three-phase color sequence. Initially, the digit(s) involved turn white due to a diminished blood supply. They then turn blue because of prolonged lack of oxygen, and finally, the blood vessels reopen, causing a local “flushing” phenomenon, which turns the fingers and toes red. This sequence (white to blue to red), most often occurring due to exposure to cold temperatures, is characteristic of RP.

A secondary form of the disorder, known as Raynaud’s disease, affects a small number of individuals and is usually found in association with another underlying systemic disorder. The symptoms are similar to RP, however, they tend to be more severe, and in rare instances, tissues may break down to form an ulcer. Your podiatrist is an excellent source for diagnosis and treatment. People with Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s disease should take extra precautions to protect themselves from cold exposure.

In people with Raynaud's disease, blood flow is temporarily decreased to the fingers, and sometimes the nose, ears, toes, nipples, or knees in response to a trigger such as cold or stress. During an attack the fingers or other affected part change color from pale/white to blue to red, and may become swollen and painful when warmed. These attacks last from a few minutes to an hour or more. In severe cases ulcers may develop on the finger pads.

Raynaud's is a rare disorder that affects the arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to different parts of your body.

Raynaud's is sometimes called a disease, syndrome, or phenomenon. The disorder is marked by brief episodes of vasospasm (narrowing of the blood vessels).

Vasospasm of the arteries reduces blood flow to the fingers and toes. In people who have Raynaud's, the disorder usually affects the fingers. In about 40 percent of people who have Raynaud's, it affects the toes. Rarely, the disorder affects the nose, ears, nipples, and lips.

In most cases, the cause of Raynaud's isn't known. This type of Raynaud's is called Raynaud's disease or primary Raynaud's.

Sometimes, a disease, condition, or other factor causes Raynaud's. This type of Raynaud's is known as Raynaud's phenomenon or secondary Raynaud's. Primary Raynaud's is more common and tends to be less severe than secondary Raynaud's.

If you have primary or secondary Raynaud's, cold temperatures or stressful emotions can trigger "Raynaud's attacks."During an attack, little or no blood flows to affected body parts.

This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.

Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition in which spasms of small blood vessels of the hands (and sometimes the feet) cause blood flow to those areas to be diminished. The affected areas, most often the tips of the fingers, will then feel cool, numb, tingly and may turn a pale white or bluish color. There are two types of Raynaud's phenomenon. The more common type, primary Raynaud's, has no underlying cause and the reason for the vessel spasm is not known. It can be triggered by stress and cold temperatures, as well as by smoking and some decongestants which are known to cause constriction of vessels. It is most often diagnosed in young adults, less than 30 years of age, and affects women more than men. The second type, secondary Raynaud's, is caused by an underlying disease, or known trauma to the vessels such as frostbite. Treatment may involve the use of drugs which dilate the vessels. Surgery to disrupt nerve pathways may also be an option for severe cases of Raynaud's phenomenon. 

Deb Cordes
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Raynaud's phenomenon is classified as a vasospastic disorder. Meaning that the area affected has decreased blood supply. Due to the decreased blood supply a person can experience pain, discoloration of affected area and numbness of the area. The areas most often affected are the fingers, toes, earlobes and nose. When the blood supply is decreased the affected areas can turn blue and the person can experience numbness and pain in that area. When the affected area becomes warm the color changes to bright red and then back to normal skin coloring. Treatment for Raynaud's phenomenon is to avoid cold weather or wear protective clothing. Avoid high stress situations. Avoid caffeine and smoking which causes vasoconstriction of blood vessels.


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