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Your health care provider has told you that you have Raynaud's disease. It is also called Raynaud's phenomenon or Raynaud's syndrome. There is no cure for Raynaud's disease, but you can manage it to prevent attacks. Read on to learn more about this condition and how it can be managed.
A Raynaud's attack is often triggered by cold or stress. During an attack, blood vessels suddenly narrow. This most often happens in fingers and toes. In rare cases, the nose, ears, or even tongue are affected. Narrowed blood vessels reduce the blood supply to the area. The area then turns white, then blue. The area may feel numb or painful. As the attack passes, the blood vessels open. The affected area may turn bright red as it warms up, then returns to normal color.
Cold or stress can normally cause blood vessels to narrow slightly. With Raynaud's, it is believed that blood vessels in the affected areas overrespond to the stimulus. This makes them narrow much more than in people without the disease. What causes the blood vessels to react so strongly to cold or stress is unknown. In between attacks, the blood vessels are normal and healthy. Attacks don’t permanently damage the blood vessels.
In some cases, Raynaud's occurs along with another disease or condition. This is often a connective tissue disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. If this is the case for you, you and your doctor can discuss treatment for the underlying condition.
Your description of your symptoms, a health history, and a physical exam are often enough for a diagnosis. Blood tests may be done to see if any underlying conditions are present and rule out other problems.
There is no cure for Raynaud's. But you can control symptoms and prevent attacks. For most people, avoiding triggers is enough to limit attacks. Your health care provider may suggest the following:
Taking precautions to help prevent your hands and feet from losing circulation. This includes dressing warmly in cold weather. Wear gloves or mittens when your hands may become cold, such as when you use the refrigerator or freezer. Avoiding stress and caffeine can help prevent attacks. If you smoke, quitting may improve the condition. This is because smoking causes your blood vessels to narrow and reduces blood flow.
Soaking your hands or feet in warm (not hot) water. Do this at the first sign of attack. Keep soaking until your skin color returns to normal.
In some people, symptoms are persistent or troubling. For these cases, other treatments are an option. Your health care provider can tell you more about the following:
Prescription medications that relax and widen blood vessels, such as calcium channel blockers. These may help relieve symptoms.
Nerve surgery for severe cases that don’t respond to other treatments. Surgery removes the nerves that surround the blood vessels in the hands and feet. Without nerve stimulation, the blood vessels stay more relaxed. They are less likely to overnarrow due to stimulus.
Certain medications can restrict blood flow. This may trigger a Raynaud's attack. Tell your health care provider if you take any of the following:
Beta-blockers to treat heart disease and high blood pressure
Migraine medications, especially those that contain caffeine
Birth control pills
Over-the-counter medications that contain the chemicals phenylpropanolamine or pseudoephedrine. These include some cold medications and diet aids.
Most cases of Raynaud are not cause for concern. The disease doesn’t get worse and isn’t likely to cause any permanent damage. If attacks are severe, very prolonged, or very frequent, skin damage may result. Controlling attacks can help prevent this.
The following problems occur rarely, but they can be serious. Call your healthcare provider right away if you notice any of the following:
Infection or sores on the skin
A finger or toe turns black
The skin breaks open on its own
A rash develops
A finger or toe joint becomes painful or swollen