Raynaud's is a rare disorder that affects the arteries. The disorder is marked by brief episodes of vasospasm (narrowing of the blood vessels).
Vasospasm of the arteries reduces blood flow to the fingers and toes. In people who have Raynaud's, the disorder usually affects the fingers. In about 40 percent of people who have Raynaud's, it affects the toes. Rarely, the disorder affects the nose, ears, nipples, and lips.
Primary Raynaud's is more common and tends to be less severe than secondary Raynaud's.
About 5 percent of the North American population has Raynaud's. Secondary Raynaud's is more common in women than men.
If you have primary or secondary Raynaud's, cold temperatures or stressful emotions can trigger “Raynaud's attacks.” During an attack, little or no blood flows to affected body parts. As a result, the skin may turn white and then blue for a short time. As blood flow returns, the affected areas may turn red and may throb, tingle, burn, or feel numb.
In both types of Raynaud's, even mild or brief changes in temperature can cause attacks. For example, taking something out of the freezer or being exposed to temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit can cause your fingers to turn blue.
Most people who have Raynaud's have no long-term tissue damage or disability. However, people who have severe Raynaud's can develop skin sores or gangrene from prolonged or repeated Raynaud's attacks. “Gangrene” refers to the death or decay of body tissues.
For most people who have primary Raynaud's, the disorder is more of a bother than a serious illness. They usually can manage the condition with minor lifestyle changes.
Secondary Raynaud's may be harder to manage. However, several types of treatments are available to help prevent or relieve symptoms. With secondary Raynaud's, it's important to treat the underlying disease or condition that's causing it.
Preventative measures include:
During an attack: