Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition that affects the circulation of blood in certain areas of the body, most often the fingers and toes. It can cause the areas to change colour (white, blue and then red in an attack), become painful, numb, and restrict movement. It is a fairly common condition that affects women more than men and can be triggered by various factors like stress, cold weather, and even excess caffeine. It is not usually a serious condition although it can affect people's quality of life, and sometimes can also be linked to other underlying medical conditions.
The full extent of what causes Raynauds is not fully understood. Certain triggers cause small arteries in the skin to constrict (narrow), reducing the flow of blood to that area. Over time, repeated attacks lead to thickening of these arteries reducing the blood flow even more. An attack is usually triggered by exposure to cold temperatures or stress, but can also be linked to certain medications. Raynaud's is classified into two types; primary and secondary. Primary Raynaud's (also known as Raynaud's disease) is not associated with an underlying medical condition. It usually occurs between 15-30 years old. Symptoms are often mild and get better on their own, without any treatment. Secondary Raynaud's is not as common but is more serious and is related to an underlying medical condition. This can be caused by diseases of the arteries, injuries to the hands or feet, carpal tunnel syndrome, smoking, autoimmune conditions (such as SLE or Rheumatoid arthritis), and repetitive actions or vibrations such as using a pneumatic drill. Medications that can lead the arteries to narrow have also been implicated in medications such as beta-blockers (used in hypertension) or some migraine medication and chemotherapy treatment.
Most cases of Raynaud's can be managed at home without any treatment. It is important to seek further medical review if your symptoms are not improving with home treatment and your symptoms are getting worse and affecting your daily life. Secondary Raynaud's is more likely to present later in life, so if your symptoms occur over 30 years old for the first time then it is important to seek further advice. Conversely, if it happens before the age of 12 or your symptoms are one-sided, or associated with other symptoms such as joint pain, skin rashes or muscle weakness (which might indicate connective tissue disease) it is also advisable to speak to your doctor.
There are simple measures you can do at home which will make a big difference to the outcome. Keeping your body warm with the right clothing - taking extra care to protect your hands and feet is an important place to start, as well as keeping your environment warm (home, car etc). Exercising regularly will improve your body's circulation, and avoiding smoking will also help.
If you have unsuccessfully tried to manage your symptoms or you have any associated symptoms, it is important to make an appointment with your doctor. They will review your symptoms, history, medication and consider investigating you for any underlying causes such as the conditions SLE or rheumatoid arthritis. Your doctor may advise you to start medications that can dilate the blood vessels and improve your circulation, such as nifedipine (commonly used as a blood pressure medication).