Raynaud's (say "ray-NOHZ") phenomenon is a problem when the blood vessels in the hands and feet are extra sensitive and become more narrow than normal. The hands and feet feel very cold and numb for a short time.
You may also hear this condition called Raynaud's syndrome or Raynaud's disease.
For most people, Raynaud's is more of a nuisance than a disability.
Often Raynaud's has no known cause. (This is sometimes called primary Raynaud's.)
Raynaud's may be a symptom of another disease, such as lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, or atherosclerosis. It may also be caused by taking certain medicines, using vibrating power tools for several years, smoking, or having frostbite. (This is sometimes called secondary Raynaud's.)
Certain things can trigger an attack of symptoms. The most common trigger is exposure to cold. In the cold, it's normal for the body to narrow the small blood vessels to the skin and to open the blood vessels to the inside parts of the body to keep the body warm. But with Raynaud's, the body restricts blood flow to the skin more than it needs to. Other triggers can include emotional stress and things that affect the flow of blood, such as smoking, caffeine, and some medicines.
During an attack of Raynaud's, the body limits blood flow to the hands and feet. This makes them feel cold and numb and then turn white or blue. As blood flow returns and the fingers or toes warm up, they may turn red and begin to throb and hurt. In rare cases, Raynaud's affects the nose or ears.
An attack most often lasts only a few minutes. But in some cases it may last more than an hour.
To diagnose Raynaud's, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and do a physical exam. You'll need to describe what happens during an attack. If you can take a photo of the affected area during an attack, the photo may also be helpful to your doctor.
There are no tests that can show that you have Raynaud's. But your doctor may do a blood test or other tests to rule out diseases that may be causing your symptoms.
If you have Raynaud's that is caused by another disease, your doctor can treat that disease. This may relieve your symptoms.
There is no cure for Raynaud's that occurs on its own (primary Raynaud's). But you may be able to control it by avoiding the things that trigger it.
If you can't control your symptoms with these steps, your doctor may give you medicine such as calcium channel blockers. This may increase blood flow to your hands and feet and relieve symptoms.
Some alternative treatments, such as herbal supplements and biofeedback training, have shown promise in treating Raynaud's. But they haven't been shown to work for everyone. Talk with your doctor if you're interested in trying any of these.
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