Where to find it
Google: Raynaud's mayo clinic
Google: Raynaud's American College of Rheumatology
Google: Raynaud's NIAMS
Q: I have been told that I have Raynaud's disease. What can you tell me about this condition?
A: Raynaud's disease is named for French physician Maurice Raynaud, who first described this condition in 1862. Also referred to as Raynaud's phenomenon or Raynaud's syndrome, it is characterized by "attacks" in which the small blood vessels of the hands or feet go into spasms and not enough blood reaches the fingers or toes. Symptoms develop as a response to cold or stress. Raynaud's is more common in colder climates and women are affected more often than men. About 5-10 percent of the U.S. population has this condition.
There are two types of Raynaud's: primary Raynaud's, the more common type, for which there is no known cause, and secondary Raynaud's, which is due to an underlying disease. Secondary Raynaud's may be precipitated by various autoimmune diseases (scleroderma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome) as well as a host of other conditions or injuries (e.g., vibration injury due to jackhammer use). Medications that constrict blood vessels can also cause secondary Raynaud's. Primary Raynaud's usually begins before age 30, whereas secondary Raynaud's typically starts later in life.
An attack of Raynaud's, regardless of type, follows a specific pattern. The affected digits first turn white, then blue, then finally red as the blood returns. During the first two phases, the digits feel cold and numb. As the digits rewarm and turn red, a tingling or throbbing sensation follows, which can be quite painful. Attacks typically occur after touching something cold, such as taking an item out of the freezer, holding a glass of cold water, or walking into an overly air-conditioned space. Even a brief exposure can trigger this response. These episodes can last for less than a minute, or as long as several hours. They can happen daily, weekly or sporadically, and different digits can be affected on different occasions.
The diagnosis of Raynaud's is largely based on the history of symptoms. If this occurs frequently, you should seek the attention of your doctor, or possibly consult a rheumatologist. In secondary Raynaud's, the underlying conditions can be diagnosed and treated. In primary Raynaud's, medications are rarely needed; most people can manage the condition with lifestyle changes and avoidance of triggers.
Here are a few preventative measures that may be taken:
• Keep your body, especially extremities, warm in cold environments
• Use chemical hand/foot warmers
• Wear gloves when handling cold objects
• Avoid highly air-conditioned spaces
• Limit caffeine and alcohol
• Don't smoke
• Increase physical activity and try to reduce stress
The Raynaud's Association website provides more helpful tips and support for those with this condition.
Sue Smith volunteers with the Grillo Center which offers free, confidential research to assist in health understanding and decisions. To use this service, contact us at grillocenter.org, 720-854-7293 or 4715 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder. No research or assistance should be interpreted as medical advice. We encourage informed consultation with a health practitioner.