Raynaud's Phenomenon

Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition that causes the fingers and toes to turn blue or white and become numb after exposure to cold temperatures, or in response to emotional stress. Raynaud's phenomenon is caused by a constriction of blood vessels in the affected area that cause the skin to change color temporarily. Although it most commonly affects the fingers and toes, this condition can also affect the nose, lips or earlobes. Raynaud's phenomenon is more common in women and people who live in cold climates.

Primary Raynaud's phenomenon happens on its own and the exact cause is unclear. With secondary Raynaud's phenomenon, the symptoms are caused by an underlying health condition such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or a condition that injures or alters the blood vessels.

Cause of Raynaud's Phenomenon

Raynaud's phenomenon may be triggered by certain medications, severe emotional stress, constant use of vibrating machinery or power tools, or even by being startled. However, the main trigger for Raynaud's phenomenon is exposure to cold temperatures. When exposed to the cold, the body normally narrows the small blood vessels close to the skin and opens the blood vessels to the inside parts of the body to keep warm. Yet with Raynaud's phenomenon, the body overcompensates and restricts blood flow through the small blood vessels, more than necessary.

Treatment of Raynaud's Phenomenon

Treatment for Raynaud's phenomenon may include treating any underlying medical conditions that may have caused the symptoms. Treatment for mild symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon may be as simple as dressing in layers and wearing heavy gloves or socks, especially when exposed to cold temperatures. Medication used to treat more severe symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon may include:

  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Alpha blockers
  • Drugs to relax blood vessels

Most treatment aims to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. Individuals may also be able to control or reduce the symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon by managing stress, quitting smoking, avoiding caffeine and exercising regularly.

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