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Raynaud’s Disease

May 24, 2013

Photograph showing hands affected by Raynaud's disease Raynaud’s disease
By Mayo Clinic staff

Raynaud’s (ray-NOHZ) disease is a condition that causes some areas of your body — such as your fingers, toes, the tip of your nose and your ears — to feel numb and cool in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud’s disease, smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas.

Women are more likely to have Raynaud’s disease. It’s also more common in people who live in colder climates.

Treatment of Raynaud’s disease depends on its severity and whether you have any other health conditions. For most people, Raynaud’s disease is more a nuisance than a disability.

Raynaud’s disease is more than simply having cold hands and cold feet, and it’s not the same as frostbite. Signs and symptoms of Raynaud’s depend on the frequency, duration and severity of the blood vessel spasms that underlie the disorder. Raynaud’s disease symptoms include:

  • Cold fingers and toes
  • Sequence of color changes in your skin in response to cold or stress
  • Numb, prickly feeling or stinging pain upon warming or relief of stress

During an attack of Raynaud’s, affected areas of your skin usually turn white at first. Then, the affected areas often turn blue, feel cold and numb, and your sense of touch is dulled. As circulation improves, the affected areas may turn red, throb, tingle or swell. The order of the changes of color isn’t the same for all people, and not everyone experiences all three colors.

Occasionally, an attack affects just one or two fingers or toes. Attacks don’t necessarily always affect the same digits. Although Raynaud’s most commonly affects your fingers and toes, the condition can also affect other areas of your body, such as your nose, lips, ears and even nipples. An attack may last less than a minute to several hours.

People who have Raynaud’s accompanied by another disease will likely also have signs and symptoms related to their basic underlying condition.

When to see a doctor
See your doctor right away if you have a history of severe Raynaud’s and develop an ulcer or infection in one of your affected fingers or toes.

Risk factors

Risk factors for primary Raynaud’s include:

  • Your gender. Primary Raynaud’s affects women more than men.
  • Your age. Although anyone can develop the condition, primary Raynaud’s often begins between the ages of 15 and 30.
  • Where you live. The disorder is also more common in people who live in colder climates.
  • Your family history. Additionally, a family history appears to increase your risk of primary Raynaud’s. About one-third of people with primary Raynaud’s have a first-degree relative — a parent, sibling or child — with the disorder.

Risk factors for secondary Raynaud’s include:

  • Associated diseases. These include conditions such as scleroderma and lupus.
  • Certain occupations. People in occupations that cause repetitive trauma, such as workers who operate tools that vibrate, also may be more vulnerable to secondary Raynaud’s.
  • Exposure to certain substances. Smoking, medications that affect the blood vessels and exposure to chemicals such as vinyl chloride are associated with an increased risk of Raynaud’s.


If Raynaud’s is severe — which is [still considered] rare — blood circulation to your fingers or toes could permanently diminish, causing deformities of your fingers or toes.

If an artery to an affected area becomes blocked completely, sores (skin ulcers) or dead tissue (gangrene) may develop. Ulcers and gangrene can be difficult to treat. In extreme untreated cases, your doctor may need to remove the affected part of your body (amputation).

Preparing for your appointment
Your family doctor or general practitioner will likely be able to diagnose Raynaud’s based on a description of your signs and symptoms. In some cases, however, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in disorders of the joints, bones and muscles (rheumatologist).

Here’s some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect from your doctor.

Information to gather in advance:

List your signs and symptoms. Your doctor will want to know when you first noticed these signs and symptoms and what seems to trigger their appearance.Note any other medical conditions with which you’ve been diagnosed. Your doctor will be especially interested to know if you’ve been diagnosed with a disorder commonly associated with Raynaud’s, such as scleroderma, lupus or Sjogren’s syndrome.Make a list of your medications. Include any prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking, as well as all vitamins, supplements and herbal remedies.Write down questions to ask your doctor. Creating your list of questions in advance can help you make the most of your time with your doctor.If any additional questions occur to you during your visit, don’t hesitate to ask. Some questions to consider include:

Do I have Raynaud’s?
Is my condition considered primary or secondary?
Am I at risk of complications from this condition?
What treatment approach do you recommend, if any?
What self-care steps can I take to reduce the risk of a Raynaud’s attack?
I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together with Raynaud’s?

What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Your doctor may ask:

What are your symptoms?
When did you first notice these symptoms?
Have your symptoms changed over time?
During a Raynaud’s attack, do your fingers or toes change color or feel numb or painful?
Does cold or stress seem to trigger an attack?
Have you been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
Are you currently taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications?
Has anyone else in your family been diagnosed with Raynaud’s?
Do you exercise regularly?
Do you smoke?
Do you use caffeine?
What do you do for a living and for recreation? [You do not have to answer this.]
How do you manage stress?


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