Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions2024-01-09T16:39:24-05:00
Frequently Asked Questions About Raynaud's

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This content is also available in our Guide:  The Cold Facts on Raynaud’s (and strategies for a warmer life).

What is Raynaud’s?2021-07-28T16:35:10-04:00

Raynaud’s (ray-NODES) is a disorder of the small blood vessels of the extremities, reducing blood flow. When exposed to cold, the blood vessels go into spasms, which may cause pain, numbness, throbbing and tingling. Emotional distress may also trigger such a response. The fingers are usually the primary affected areas, although toes, nose, ears and other extremities may be involved. In a typical case, fingers turn from white or blue (or both) within minutes of cold exposure then become red when they warm up. These color changes, which may vary from person to person, are an exaggeration of a normal response to cold exposure. A normal cold response in the hands is a blotchy red and white pattern. Raynaud’s-type color changes are distinctively different.

The disorder has been called Raynaud’s “phenomenon,” “syndrome” or “disease.” Although physicians have used these terms to identify different types, today the words are used interchangeably. There are, however, two major kinds of Raynaud’s that are important to recognize:

Primary Raynaud’s, the most common type, is not linked to another underlying medical condition or disease. There is no apparent cause for the phenomenon to occur. Primary Raynaud’s is not usually “disabling” in the typical sense, but sufferers can experience great discomfort and pain – requiring lifestyle adjustments to minimize exposure to cold and stress.

Secondary Raynaud’s is the term used when Raynaud’s is associated with another medical condition or disease, often of a rheumatic nature such as scleroderma (also known as systemic sclerosis), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) and rheumatoid arthritis. Often, Raynaud’s symptoms are the first sign that such an underlying connective tissue disease exists. Patients with the secondary form are more likely to suffer more serious problems from Raynaud’s, such as skin ulcers (which can cause serious long-term damage to the blood vessels), or even gangrene. Some workers have been known to develop Raynaud’s because of prolonged use of vibrating tools. This form is secondary to a condition known as Vibration White Finger.

How do I know whether I have Primary or Secondary Raynaud’s?2021-07-28T16:35:44-04:00

The form is determined by a careful examination from your physician, who looks for signs of an underlying disease (for example, thickened skin in scleroderma, or sun-sensitive skin rashes in lupus). A blood test known as the ANA (antinuclear antibody test) is usually done. If the workup is negative for symptoms of other diseases, and the ANA is negative, it is likely that the Raynaud’s is primary. However, it may take years for other disease signs to develop, so your physician may want to follow you for a few years before assuring you that nothing else is likely to happen.

A positive ANA is only a marker for the presence of an underlying connective tissue disease. However, some people have a positive ANA for many years, but never develop any symptoms of scleroderma, lupus or another rheumatic disease. These individuals probably would be assumed to have primary Raynaud’s. In most of these cases, the patient is said to have an “undifferentiated connective tissue disease.” Other than watching the patient closely for signs of another disorder, the treatment is virtually the same as for primary Raynaud’s.

As common as Raynaud’s is in the general population, fortunately only a small percentage of people with Raynaud’s are classified as having the secondary Raynaud’s form.