As the colder weather approaches, our office sees an increased number of patient complaining of pain and color changes associated with Raynaud’s syndrome. Raynaud’s disease is characterized by numbness and pain in the fingers and toes (along with an exaggerated response to cold and stress) and caused by spasms in the blood vessels in our extremities. Let’s look at this condition more closely.
What is Raynaud’s disease?
The terms phenomenon, disease and syndrome are often used interchangeably with Raynaud’s, but strictly speaking, there are two types of Raynaud’s:
- Primary Raynaud’s is the most common form of the condition, even though there’s no clear medical cause for blood vessels to contract. Typical onset is before age 30.
- Secondary Raynaud’s does have a clear and serious medical cause (e.g. scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus). Typical onset is around age 40 or later. Raynaud’s most commonly affects women and people living in cold climates.
We still don’t know exactly what causes attacks of Raynaud’s, but we can link the blood vessel spasms to certain underlying conditions, including:
- Emotional stress
- Cold temperatures
- Drugs that narrow blood vessels, e.g. amphetamines, some beta-blockers
- Arthritis and autoimmune conditions, e.g. scleroderma, lupus
- Repetitive activity, e.g. typing, heavy hand tools like jackhammers
- Smoking – this constricts blood vessels
- Injuries, e.g. frostbite
- Family history: one-third of the people with primary Raynaud’s have a family member with the condition
The symptoms of a Raynaud’s attack vary with the intensity and frequency of the blood vessel spasms. Typical symptoms in the extremities, especially fingers and toes, are:
- Color changes in the extremities during the attack (typically white, then blue) and during warming or stress relief (red)
How to prevent or address an attack of Raynaud’s
You can take several steps, including:
- Control stress and practice stress-reduction techniques
- Stay warm at all times, especially at the extremities
- Smoking – stop, or don’t start
- Exercise to increase blood circulation
Diagnosis and Treatment
Even mild Raynaud’s affects one’s quality of life, so a medical consultation is essential. Dr. Giacalone’s goal in treating your condition is to reduce and prevent attacks. He will diagnose any underlying condition, order targeted blood tests, recommend lifestyle changes, and prescribe appropriate medications if needed. There are several topical and oral medications that have been extremely effective in reducing and limiting the pain associated with Raynaud’s.