Raynaud’s Disease is a medical condition which causes constriction of blood vessels in the extremities of the body. Raynaud’s Disease most commonly affects the fingers and toes, although it can cause symptoms in other extremities such as the ears and nose, and more rarely in the tongue.
The condition takes its name from Dr Maurice Raynaud was the first physician to describe the disease in 1862. For the sufferer of this condition – predominantly women – the symptoms are triggered by exposure to cold or changes in temperature, but stress can also trigger the constriction of blood vessels. Strictly speaking this condition is not a disease, although in many cases the actual cause is not known. For this reason it is now more acceptable to call this condition Raynaud’s syndrome, Raynaud’s Phenomenon or simply just Raynaud’s.
What are the Symptoms of Raynaud’s Disease?
Upon exposure to cold, the blood vessels in the extremities become narrower which limits blood flow. With less blood circulating in the extremities they turn pale in colour or white, and start to feel cold. When the blood is fully oxygenated it is bright red in color; however as the oxygen becomes depleted the colour darkens. This can be clearly seen with Reynaud’s. The fingers tend to go blue or even darker in color shortly after whitening due to the lack of oxygen.
The longer the episode, the more pronounced this can be. Typically, episodes of Reynaud’s Disease will last only for a few minutes, although sometimes they can be extended for periods of a few hours. When the blood returns to the extremities and the blood vessels dilate, they become hot to the touch and red, and this can cause toe pain, and throbbing in the hands and fingers, or numbness in the extremities. Although the pain and discomfort is often only mild, some individuals can suffer intense finger and toe pain.
Types of Raynaud’s Disease
Raynaud’s Disease is classified as two types: Primary Raynaud’s and Secondary Raynaud’s. Primary refers to Raynaud’s Disease where the cause is not understood or cannot be determined. Secondary Raynaud’s is used for when the condition is secondary to another medical problem, and develops alongside or as a result of a disease or medical problem. There are numerous causes of Secondary Reynaud’s, which can include lupus, scleroderma, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and vibration white finger.
Over 90 percent of cases of Raynaud’s phenomenon are categorized as primary, and the condition is more common in women than men. There is also a hereditary aspect, with family members often all suffering from the condition. It is rarely seen in children, and usually develops around puberty and in early adulthood. Secondary Reynaud’s syndrome can develop at any age depending on when the condition which triggers it starts to display symptoms.
Is Raynaud’s Disease Serious?
Typically Reynaud’s is not serious to the health, although it can be uncomfortable for the sufferer. There are usually few complications from the condition, and it is rare for there to be health problems associated with primary Reynaud’s. Secondary Reynaud’s Disease is more likely to cause complications, although still relatively rare. It is not unknown for ulcers to form on the fingers or toes, and severe episodes can lead to tissue death, gangrene and scarring.
Treatment of Reynaud’s Disease
Prevention of Reynaud’s episodes are often as simple as keeping warm, wearing gloves and thick socks in cold weather and avoiding rapid changes in temperature. Essentially keeping warm is the best prevention and treatment. However, this tactic in itself may not be sufficient, especially when episodes are triggered by stress.
Any drug or compound which restricts the blood vessels has potential to trigger an episode, or certainly make one more likely to occur. Smoking causes constriction of the blood vessels, and quitting will certainly be beneficial to reduce symptoms. Caffeine has a similar effect on the blood vessels, so cutting intake or switching to decaffeinated versions of soft drinks, tea and coffee is a wise precaution. Exercise is a good way to improve blood circulation, and when episodes of Reynaud’s occur, immersing the effected body parts in warm water is a good way to warm up and dilate the blood vessels.
In severe cases of Reynaud’s Disease when attacks are numerous, drugs such as Nifedipine may be prescribed to keep the blood vessels dilated, which can be highly beneficial during cold winters. Nifedipine is not without side effects, and may not be suitable for all sufferers. When stress triggers the condition, it is harder to reduce the frequency of episodes and only by management of stress levels can the outbreaks be effectively controlled.