Raynaud's Phenomenon

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Raynaud's phenomenon facts

  • Raynaud's phenomenon is characterized by a pale to blue to red sequence of color changes of the digits, most commonly after exposure to cold.
  • Raynaud's phenomenon occurs because of spasm of blood vessels.
  • The cause of Raynaud's phenomenon is unknown, although abnormal nerve control of blood-vessel diameter and nerve sensitivity to cold are suspected of being involved.
  • Symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon depend on the severity, frequency, and duration of the blood-vessel spasm.
  • There is no blood test for diagnosing Raynaud's phenomenon.
  • Treatment of Raynaud's phenomenon involves protection of the digits, medications, and avoiding emotional stresses, smoking, cold temperature, and tools that vibrate the hands.

What is Raynaud's phenomenon?

Raynaud's phenomenon (RP) is a condition resulting in a particular series of discolorations of the fingers and/or the toes after exposure to changes in temperature (cold or hot) or emotional events. Skin discoloration occurs because an abnormal spasm of the blood vessels causes a diminished blood supply to the local tissues. Initially, the digit(s) involved turn white because of the diminished blood supply. The digit(s) then turn blue because of prolonged lack of oxygen. Finally, the blood vessels reopen, causing a local "flushing" phenomenon, which turns the digit(s) red. This three-phase color sequence (white to blue to red), most often upon exposure to cold temperature, is characteristic of RP.

Raynaud's phenomenon most frequently affects women, especially in the second, third, or fourth decades of life. People can have Raynaud's phenomenon alone or as a part of other rheumatic diseases. Raynaud's phenomenon in children is essentially identical to Raynaud's phenomenon in adults. When it occurs alone, it is referred to as "Raynaud's disease" or primary Raynaud's phenomenon. When it accompanies other diseases, it is called secondary Raynaud's phenomenon.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/11/2014

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Raynaud's Phenomenon and Scleroderma

My mother has a condition in which her fingers turn completely white--especially during the winter--and when the blood returns to her fingers, they tingle. A rheumatologist told her today that she possibly has scleroderma. What is the prognosis and treatment for this disease?

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

The condition you are describing in your mother's fingers is compatible with Raynaud's phenomenon. Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition resulting in discoloration of the fingers and/or the toes after exposure to changes in temperature (cold or hot) or emotional events. Skin discoloration occurs because an abnormal spasm of the blood vessels causes a diminished blood supply to the local tissues.

Raynaud's phenomenon is particularly common in patients with scleroderma, although it may occur with other diseases or by itself. Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease of connective tissue. Autoimmune diseases are diseases which occur when the body's tissues are attacked by its own immune system. Scleroderma is characterized by the formation of scar tissue (fibrosis) in the skin and organs of the body. This leads to thickness and firmness of involved areas, most frequently in the fingers. The cause of scleroderma is not known.