Raynaud’s Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Raynaud’s syndrome is characterized by a change to blood circulation to the hands and feet that causes very abrupt changes to skin color. Skin in the extremities starts of as pale and cold, then changes to a blue or purple color, before returning to its normal pink state. 

This phenomenon may also affect other areas of the body, mainly the nose and ear lobes. Its causes are not completely known, however it may be possible that exposure to cold environments and sudden changes to emotions may be associated with this condition. It is also more frequently seen in women.

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Main symptoms

Symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome emerge due to changes to blood circulation from narrowed blood vessels. This decreased blood flow means that there is less oxygen reaching the cells.

The most common symptoms include: 

  • Changes to finger color, which initially start off as pale and then turn purple due to decreased oxygen in the area 
  • A pulsing senstion in the affected areas
  • Tingling
  • Hand swelling
  • Pain or sensitivity 
  • Small skin lesions or hives
  • Changes to skin texture 

Symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome emerge mainly due to extremely cold temperatures or prolonged exposure to cold environments. It may also be noted in patients under intense stress. 

Normally, simple measures like avoiding cold environments and using thick socks and gloves in the winter are sufficient to relieve symptoms and reduce discomfort. However, if symptoms do not improve with these measures, it is important to seek assessment so that Raynaud’s syndrome can be diagnosed and treated appropriately.

Confirming a diagnosis

Raynaud’s syndrome is diagnosed by a doctor through a physical assessment and evlauation of the presenting signs and symptoms. 

In addition, it is important to rule out health conditions that can present with similar symptoms, like inflammation or autoimmune diseases. The doctor may order testing, such as antinuclear antibody testing and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate.

Possible causes

Constant or prolonged exposure to cold seems to be associated with Raynaud’s syndrome and causes changes to blood flow to the extremities. However, this condition may also be a consequence of another health problem, and in these cases, it is referred to as secondary Raynaud’s syndrome. The main causes of secondary Rayndaud’s include: 

  • Scleroderma 
  • Polymyositis and dermatomyositis 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjorgen’s syndrome
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Polycythemia vera
  • Cryoglobulinemia 

In addition, Raynaud’s syndrome can occur as a consequence of medication use, smoking and repetitive movements. 

Treatment options

Raynaud’s syndrome usually does not require any specific treatment. In most cases, patients are advised to warm up the affected areas to promote active blood circulation. Although, if symptoms persist or if you notice your extremities are getting darker, it may be a sign of imminent tissue death from lack of oxygen. These cases require immediate medical attention. 

To prevent necrosis, patients are advised to avoid cold environments and to use thick gloves and socks. Smoking is also not recommended, as it can interfere with blood circulation and reduce the amount of blood reaching the hands and feet. 

If your frequently experience symptoms and this condition is associated with another health issue, then the doctor may prescribe medications like nifedipine, diltiazem, prazosin or topical nitroglycerin.