Raynaud’s Phenomenon (Raynaud’s, or RP) is a condition where very small blood vessels go into spasm or “clamp down” in response to cold temperatures. This reduces blood flow to the extremities, usually the fingers and toes, causing them to turn white and feel cold. When they warm back up, the skin usually turns another colour such as blue or red before returning to normal.
There are two basic types of Raynaud’s: primary Raynaud’s and secondary Raynaud’s. Primary Raynaud’s is seen on its own and happens by itself. Secondary Raynaud’s is “secondary” to an autoimmune disease like systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s syndrome. Secondary Raynaud’s tends to be more severe than primary Raynaud’s and the symptoms may get worse over time.
Attacks of Raynaud’s are usually caused by exposure to cold temperatures and can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours or longer. Other things that can trigger attacks include emotional stress, trauma (injury), hormonal changes, and smoking.
People have a higher risk of developing Raynaud’s if they have had a previous injury to the extremities like frostbite or surgery, as well as those with a history of repetitive actions or vibrations, such as using a jackhammer, drills, typing, or playing the piano.
It is not understood what causes the blood vessels to become more sensitive to cold temperatures and other triggers. Some experts think the answer might be related to the immune system because Raynaud’s can be associated with autoimmune or connective tissue diseases like as rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma.
Primary RP usually affects young women in their 20s or 30s and appears to be more common in young women who are thin. The disease often runs in families.
Secondary RP is associated with underlying autoimmune diseases to varying degrees. It has been estimated that almost all people with systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) also have Raynaud’s, and that 1 in 3 people with Sjogren’s syndrome have it. Pregnancy can be more complicated for women with RP and an underlying autoimmune disease. Depending on the specific disease or syndrome, they may be at risk of multiple miscarriages. RP can rarely affect a woman’s ability to breastfeed in cases where the nipple area is affected.