Raynaud's phenomenon

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What is Raynaud's phenomenon?

Raynaud’s phenomenon causes the blood supply to your fingers or toes to become reduced in cold or emotionally stressful conditions, which results in discomfort and the affected areas changing colour. It can be primary, where it occurs on its own, or secondary, where it’s linked to another condition.

What are the symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon?

Symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon include:
  • your fingers and sometimes toes change colour (white to blue, then red) when exposed to cold conditions
  • pain, tingling and numbness in the fingers or toes

If you have secondary Raynaud’s you may get ulcers on your fingers or lose the blood supply to your fingertips (this can be referred to as gangrene), but these are rare.

Who gets Raynaud's phenomenon?

Raynaud’s phenomenon usually affects teenage girls and young women but men, children and older people can also get it.

What causes Raynaud's phenomenon?

We don’t fully understand why some people develop Raynaud’s phenomenon and others don’t. For some reason the blood supply to the fingers and toes is reduced. This may be caused by:
  • an exaggerated response to the cold
  • emotional changes
  • using vibrating tools

What is the outlook for Raynaud's phenomenon?

Most people with Raynaud’s phenomenon will always have the condition. But if there’s an underlying, then it’s sometimes possible to remove or treat this.

How is Raynaud's phenomenon diagnosed?

Your doctor will usually make a diagnosis of Raynaud's phenomenon based on your symptoms. You may need tests to detect whether you have the primary or secondary form of the condition, which can include:
  • blood tests to check your blood count and your immune system
  • x-rays to look for an extra rib (called a cervical rib) that can affect the blood flow to your arms
  • a nailfold microscopy, where the tissue at the base of your fingernail is looked at under a microscope
  • cold stress test to assess your response to a cold challenge.

What treatments are there for Raynaud's phenomenon?

If you have primary Raynaud’s you may be prescribed nifedipine or amlodipine, which work by widening your blood vessels.

How can I help myself?

  • Keep warm in cold weather. Dress in warm clothes and wear gloves, socks and a hat. You may find heated gloves useful. Wear layers of clothes that trap the heat.
  • Regular exercise improves your blood flow, and keeping active on a cold day will help you to stay warm.
  • Smoking damages your circulation, so you should stop if you have Raynaud’s phenomenon.

What else should I know about Raynaud's phenomenon?

In some rare cases, Raynaud’s phenomenon may suddenly become more severe. You should be aware of the particular symptoms because it may need urgent attention.

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