What Is Raynaud’s Phenomenon?
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a whitening of your fingers, toes,
ears, or nose. It’s caused by vasospasms, or sudden constrictions of your blood
vessels. These constrictions block or slow blood flow to your extremities,
causing them to whiten and feel ice cold.
Your skin may first turn white and then blue, and you may
feel numbness or pain. When normal blood flow returns, your skin will turn red and
may throb and tingle. It will eventually go back to a normal color.
Stress and cold temperatures can trigger an attack of
Raynaud’s. People with Raynaud’s have spasms in their blood vessels when
exposed to cold temperatures or strong emotions. The duration of episodes ranges
from minutes to hours.
According to the National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, about five percent of the U.S. population
Types of Raynaud’s Phenomenon
There are two types of Raynaud’s: primary and secondary.
Primary Raynaud’s is more common and secondary Raynaud’s tends to be more
The cause of primary
Raynaud’s isn’t known. According to the
Mayo Clinic, this type of Raynaud’s is:
- more common in women than men
- usually seen in people between the ages of 15
- seen in people who live in colder climates
- more prevalent if you have a parent or
sibling with it
Secondary Raynaud’s is caused by another disease,
condition, or other factor. Some causes of secondary Raynaud’s include:
- artery diseases, such as Buerger’s disease or
- medications that narrow the arteries, such as
some beta-blockers and certain cancer drugs
- autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid
arthritis, lupus, and scleroderma
- repeated injury to the arteries, especially from
activities that cause vibration, such as jackhammering
- thoracic outlet syndrome
Secondary Raynaud’s is harder to manage than primary, as you
will have to treat the disease or disorder causing it.
The Cold Stimulation Test
The cold simulation test is designed to trigger symptoms of
Raynaud’s and is used in conjunction with other tests to diagnose the
The test involves a few simple steps:
- A small temperature-measuring device is attached
to your fingers with tape.
- Your hands are placed in ice water to trigger
symptoms, and then removed.
- The measuring device records how long it takes
your fingers to return to normal body temperature.
The test may cause some mild discomfort but there are no
risks associated with it. No specific preparations are needed for the test.
If your finger temperature returns to normal within 15
minutes, your test results are normal. If it takes longer than 20 minutes, you
have abnormal results and you may have Raynaud’s.
Your doctor will order more tests if you have abnormal
results. These other tests include:
- nailfold capillaroscopy, a test to look at the
capillaries under your fingernails
- antinuclear antibodies test (ANA), to test for
autoimmune disorders and diseases in your connective tissues
- erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), used to
test for inflammatory or autoimmune disorders
- C-reactive protein test
The main concern for people with Raynaud’s is damage to your
skin tissue. If tissue damage is severe, fingers and toes may need to be
removed. Treatment aims to minimize the number and severity of attacks.
You can prevent a Raynaud’s attack by:
- keeping warm, in particular your hands and feet
- controlling stress, as it can trigger an attack
- exercising regularly to promote good circulation
and good overall health
- not smoking
- avoiding medications that constrict your
arteries or reduce blood flow
There are several tests to diagnose Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Your doctor will typically use the cold simulation test as a preliminary test. If
the results are abnormal, they’ll proceed with other tests for a complete
Although there’s no cure for Raynaud’s, treatment aims to
control and prevent attacks to keep your skin tissue healthy.