What is Raynaud’s phenomenon?
Raynaud’s phenomenon (also known as Raynaud’s Disease) describes the condition where exposure to cold or stress may decrease the blood flow to the skin. This decrease in blood flow leads to color changes of the skin of the fingers and/or toes.
There are two forms of Raynaud’s phenomenon, Primary Raynaud’s Phenomenon and Secondary Raynaud’s Phenomenon, which occurs as part of another autoimmune disease and is usually more severe.
Raynaud’s phenomenon leads to color changes of the skin of the fingers and/or toes due to cold exposure or stress. The skin will often turn white when the blood flow decreases, then turn blue or grey, followed by red as blood flow improves again. Typically, only the fingers and not the hand or thumb are affected. These color changes are often associated with pain, numbness, tingling, or mild swelling. More severe cases (usually Secondary Raynaud’s Phenomenon) may lead to poorly healing sores on the tips of the fingers or toes, or even loss of an entire finger or toe.
Patients who may have Raynaud’s phenomenon are often sent for an evaluation by a rheumatologist. Raynaud’s phenomenon can usually be diagnosed based upon symptoms (classic color changes). Physical examination of the fingers and toes can help confirm the diagnosis if signs of damage are found, but damage is not always present. Because Raynaud’s attacks are temporary, it may be helpful to take pictures of your fingers or toes during an episode to show your doctor.
The most important way to reduce Raynaud’s phenomenon is to avoid cold and stress. If your symptoms are causing damage or affecting your daily functioning or quality of life, your doctor may choose to start you on medication to try to improve the blood flow in your fingers and toes.