Raynaud’s Disease or Raynaud’s Phenomenon: Symptoms, causes, treatments, and preventing flare-ups
How do you say it?
Raynaud’s. Just knowing how to pronounce it can be a challenge, let alone understanding what it is! You have probably heard it pronounced several different ways. According to our research, the way it should be pronounced is Ray-NOHZ, like the word ‘ray’ plus the word ‘nose’, most commonly placing emphasis on the second syllable. It is often called either Raynaud’s Disease or Raynaud’s Phenomenon. Both names mean the same thing and both are correct – we will refer to both in this blog.
What is it?
Raynaud’s phenomenon, simply put, is a problem with blood flow. This means that your body is not able to send enough blood to your extremities, like your hands and feet, so they tend to feel very cold, numb or tingly and can even discolor due to lack of circulation. Raynaud’s can, in more severe cases, cause some painful and troubling symptoms like ulcers and sores, but for the most part is more of a nuisance than a disability. Hopefully, with the tips and techniques listed below, your Raynaud’s Disease may be manageable.
If you have lupus or another autoimmune disease, it can be a scary thing to be told that you also have Raynaud’s Syndrome having no prior knowledge of this condition. Raynaud’s is a common ‘overlap’ disease associated with lupus and other autoimmune conditions.
In this blog, we hope to give you that knowledge in a clear and concise manner, thereby easing some of the fears associated with this new diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of Raynaud’s?
Some common symptoms of Raynaud’s are:
- Cold fingers and toes
- Color changes in your skin in response to cold or stress
- Numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes (can be on the ears or nose)
- Stinging or throbbing pain upon warming or stress relief
- Ulcers in the tips of fingers and/or toes
What causes Raynaud’s Phenomenon or Raynaud’s Disease?
The following five things can be potential causes for Raynaud’s:
- Diseases of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Drugs that cause narrowing of the arteries (amphetamines, some beta-blockers, some cancer drugs, some migraine medications)
- Certain autoimmune conditions (SLE-lupus, scleroderma, sjogrens, RA)
- Repeated injury or usage (i.e., typing, piano, heavy use of hand tools)
What are the treatment options for Raynaud’s?
Some medical Raynaud’s treatment plans may include:
- Calcium channel blockers: These are prescription medications that help to dilate or enlarge the blood vessels, thereby
- increasing circulation to the extremities. These medications are helpful in reducing the severity and frequency of attacks. Some medications used are: nifedipine and diltiazem.
- Vasodilators: Topical prescription medications like nitroglycerin which relax the walls of the blood vessels can provide relief. This type of drug can be used to help heal painful skin ulcers caused by the condition of Raynaud’s. Vasodilators that are typically used to treat other conditions are also prescribed to those with Raynaud’s. Such drugs as: Cozaar (used for treatment of high blood pressure), antidepressants like Prozac and Sarafem, and as odd as it may sound, Viagra (sildenafil) is also prescribed for Raynaud’s.
- Alpha Blockers: These drugs typically counteract the actions of the hormone that constricts the blood vessels, norepinephrine. Some examples of this type of medication are Minipress (prasolin) and Cardura (doxazosin).
- Surgeries or medical procedures: Nerve surgery to cut the sympathetic nerves in your hands and feet can help to interrupt their exaggerated response to temperature shifts, etc. This surgery is called a sympathectomy and may reduce the frequency or severity of attacks, but has not always been successful.
- Chemical Injections: Physicians use chemicals injected into the sympathetic nerves to block the nerves. This procedure needs to be repeated if symptoms persist.
- Surgical intervention: In very rare cases where the blood flow has been completely blocked, gangrene can set in, requiring amputation of the affected tissue.
Are there any alternative treatments?
Supplements and lifestyle changes that help to increase blood circulation can be effective alternatives for managing and minimizing the frequency of Raynaud’s attacks. Three ideas that you could speak to your physician about may include:
- Fish oil: Fish oil supplements could potentially improve your tolerance to cold and slow down the Raynaud’s reaction that narrows your blood vessels.
- Ginkgo: Ginkgo supplements could be beneficial
- Biofeedback: This is a learned technique that uses your mind to control body temperature. It may help decrease the severity and frequency of attacks. Guided imagery is used to increase the temperature of hands and feet, deep breathing is practiced to calm the body along with other relaxation exercises. Your doctor may be able to suggest a therapist who can help you learn biofeedback techniques. You can also find websites, books and tapes on the subject.
As with any alternative treatment option, or taking any supplement, be sure to talk to your doctor before adding it to your treatment plan. It is important for your physician to be able to warn you of any potential drug interactions or side effects of these alternative treatments.
Working together with your physician to find the right treatment plan specific to your needs, is the best course of action. Please make your medical caregiver aware of any other medications you are taking (including birth control pills, over the counter cold medications, or any medications used to treat high blood pressure) as some may actually aggravate Raynaud’s or make other prescribed medications ineffective.
What can you do to prevent or avoid a Raynaud’s attack?
Following these tips can dramatically help avoid and prevent the frequency and severity of the uncomfortable symptoms of Raynaud’s Disease:
- Stop smoking
- Avoid caffeine
- Avoid medications that cause tightening of the blood vessels
- Keep the body warm, avoiding exposure to cold, wearing mittens or gloves outdoors or when handling cold items.
- Wear comfortable, roomy shoes and wool socks.
- Moderate exercise can improve circulation
If you suspect that you may have Raynaud’s getting treatment sooner rather than later may save you a lot of discomfort in the future. While Raynaud’s is rarely life threatening, complications can develop in more severe cases. In addition to the aforementioned symptoms of Raynaud’s, if you have a sore on your hands or feet that will not heal, or if you have a history of Raynaud’s and develop a sore in the affected body part, or have fever or swollen and painful joints, please consult your physician as soon as possible.
If you find yourself in the middle of having an attack of Raynaud’s, it can be helpful to move to a warmer area, place your hands in your armpits, wiggle your fingers and toes, run warm water over your fingers/toes, make large circles with your arms to increase blood flow to the fingers and massage your hands and feet. If stress was the trigger, find ways to calm yourself down, take deep breaths, and leave the stressful environment.
While there is currently no cure for Raynaud’s, you may be able to avoid it by avoiding the things that can trigger an attack. The good news is, although annoying, it should not severely affect your quality of life.
For more updated information on Raynaud’s Syndrome visit these helpful websites:
Author: Karrie Sundbom
Updated by Kelli Roseta (2016)
All images unless otherwise noted are property of and were created by Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus. To use one of these images, please contact us at [email protected] for written permission; image credit and link-back must be given to Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus.
All resources provided by us are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views expressed here do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your healthcare practitioner with any specific questions or concerns.