Raynaud's disease

Raynaud's Disease

What is Raynaud's Disease?


Primary Raynaud's, called Raynaud’s Disease or Raynaud’s Phenomenon, is a condition which affects the extremities - predominantly the fingers and toes, but sometimes the ears, and on rare occasions the nose, chin or cheeks. The symptoms are a painful sensation of cold in these extremities, and whitening or reddening of the fingers or toes.  This is often followed by a phase where the area turns blue or black before turning red as the blood flow returns.

During an attack, the blood supply to these parts of the body becomes interrupted as the arteries that normally supply them spasm and contract. The affected parts may feel numb, or tingle slightly, and  often feel extremely painful as the blood returns. Applying warmth to the affecting area is the best way of relieving the symptoms.  Avoid using too much heat which could cause damage.

Over time, the condition can cause the blood supply to the fingers and toes to deteriorate, leading to ulceration of the skin. The majority of people with Raynaud's disease are women.

The condition is sometimes diagnosed at an early age, but some people with the illness do not show any symptoms until much later. Many people with Raynaud's find that it can get progressively worse over time.

What causes Raynaud's Disease?

Raynaud's attacks are usually triggered by contact with the cold. Stress and anxiety can also lead to a Raynaud's attack. Smoking plays a part in constricting blood vessels and this can also cause the onset of a Raynaud's attack in people who have been diagnosed with the illness.

Some medications, notably some heart medications, may cause Raynaud’s.  If this happens do not stop taking your medication.  Discuss it with your doctor and see if something else can be prescribed.

Working for prolonged periods with vibrating tools, such as chainsaws or pneumatic drills, can induce Raynaud's symptoms in some people. This condition can persist indefinitely even if the worker changes to a different form of employment. It is also known as HAVS – Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome -  and is a recognised industrial illness.

It is not known what causes the onset of Raynaud's disease. The illness occurs spontaneously, often in childhood or adolescence, without any underlying cause.

Secondary Raynaud's disease is much less common and arises as a result of a co-existing medical condition. A person who develops the symptoms of Raynaud's may in fact be suffering from an underlying illness, such as Scleroderma, Lupus, Sjögrens syndrome, Buerger's disease or  Rheumatoid Arthritisfor example

How do doctors test for Raynaud's Disease?

Raynaud’s is diagnosed by the presence of the three phases of white, blue and red.  As it can be difficult to reproduce these effects while in the doctor’s surgery it is a good idea to take photos of the hands during an attack so that the doctor can see what is happening.

How is Raynaud's Disease treated?

There is no known cure for Raynaud's disease, just as there is no known cause. Hence, treatment of the illness involves addressing the symptoms. There are drugs available that can relieve the symptoms but they are not helpful in every case. It is reasonable for the doctor to suggest a trial of medication to see if it will help.

The best treatments for Raynaud's symptoms are preventative. Patients are advised to keep their entire body warm, and wear layered clothing to prevent heat loss. At night, an electric blanket can be used to keep warm.

Mittens, fleece-lined gloves and good socks can help prevent the onset of symptoms. Gloves or mittens should especially be worn if there is any risk of coming in contact with cold surfaces or objects, such as fridges or frozen food.

People with Raynaud's disease can learn to recognise any activities that may induce an attack. Common activities include those which involve placing pressure on the digits, such as typing, playing keyboards and pianos, chopping food and using vibrating tools. As smoking can constrict blood flow, this must be avoided.

Where can I get more information on Raynaud's Disease?

There is an organisation, which offers information and support for anyone suffering from Raynaud's disease or Scleroderma in Ireland:

Raynaud's and Scleroderma Ireland

Paradigm House, Dundrum Office Park, Dundrum, Dublin 14

You can telephone them directly at the number below:

(lo-call number) 0818 363 999

Fax: 01 2157945

You can email them at info@irishraynauds.com. Their website offers further information about the condition and the activities of the society at www.irishraynauds.com.