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Raynaud's Phenomenon - Topic Overview

derm_01.jpgWhat is Raynaud's phenomenon?

Raynaud's (say "ray-NOHZ") phenomenon is a problem with blood flow. Your body doesn't send enough blood to your hands and feet, so they feel very cold and numb. In most cases, this lasts for a short time when your body overreacts to cold temperatures.

There are two kinds of Raynaud's phenomenon. Primary Raynaud's is also known as Raynaud's disease. It occurs on its own and is the most common form. Secondary Raynaud's is also called Raynaud's syndrome. It most often forms as part of another disease.

People may not talk to a doctor about symptoms of Raynaud's. For most people, it is more of a nuisance than a disability.

What causes Raynaud's phenomenon?

Primary Raynaud's has no known cause. Secondary Raynaud's may be a symptom of another disease such as lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, or atherosclerosis. Taking certain medicines, using vibrating power tools for several years, smoking, or having frostbite may also cause Raynaud's.

Certain things, such as stress and taking certain medicines, can trigger an attack. But the most common trigger is exposure to cold. In the cold, it's normal for the body to narrow the small blood vessels to the skin and to open the blood vessels to the inside parts of the body to keep the body warm. But with Raynaud's, the body overreacts and restricts blood flow through the small vessels to the skin more than necessary.

What are the symptoms?

During an attack of Raynaud's, the body limits blood flow to the hands and feet. This makes the fingers or toes feel cold and numb and then turn white or blue. As blood flow returns and the fingers or toes warm, they may turn red and begin to throb and feel painful. In rare cases, Raynaud's affects the nose or ears.

An attack most often lasts only a few minutes. But in some cases it may last more than an hour.

How is Raynaud's phenomenon diagnosed?

To diagnose Raynaud's, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and past health. He or she will also do a physical exam. Since Raynaud's attacks are so sudden and brief, your doctor probably won't get to see you have an attack. So your doctor will want you to describe what happens to you during an attack.

There are no simple tests that your doctor can use to see if you have Raynaud's. You may have a blood test or other tests to rule out certain diseases that may be causing your symptoms.

How is it treated?

If you have secondary Raynaud's that is caused by another disease, your doctor can treat that disease. This may relieve your symptoms.

There is no cure for primary Raynaud's, but you may be able to control it by avoiding the things that trigger it. These triggers include cold temperatures, stress, smoking, caffeine, cold medicines with pseudoephedrine, and beta-blockers. But don't stop taking prescribed medicines unless you talk to your doctor first.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 30, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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