Raynaud's disease (RAY-noz) is a condition that affects blood flow to the extremities which include the fingers, toes, nose and ears when exposed to temperature changes or stress. It was named after Maurice Raynaud (1834 - 1881), a French physician who first described it in 1862.
The symptoms include several cyclic color changes:
All three colour changes are present in classic Raynaud's disease. However, some patients do not see all of the colour changes in all outbreaks of this condition.
Disease vs. phenomenon
It is important to distinguish Raynaud's disease from Raynaud's phenomenon. In order to diagnose these two forms of Raynaud's, your doctor may look for signs of arthritis or vasculitis and conduct a number of laboratory tests.
Primary Raynaud's (disease)
Raynaud's disease (or "Primary Raynaud's") is diagnosed if the symptoms occur only by itself and is not accompanied by other diseases. It often develops in young women in their teens and young adulthood. This form of Raynaud's is thought to be hereditary, although it is uncertain if it is actually genetic or if it is simply recognized more often within families of people diagnosed with the disease.
Secondary Raynaud's (phenomenon)
Raynaud's phenomenon (or "Secondary Raynaud's") occurs secondary to many different causes:
In contrast to the disease form, this form of Raynaud's can progress to necrosis or gangrene of the fingertips.
Patients with Raynaud's disease are advised to keep warm by wearing gloves and socks. They should also avoid stress, medicines that can constrict blood vessels such as decongestants and touching cold objects. Patients are also advised to avoid foods and activities that may constrict blood vessels such as drinking caffeinated drinks and smoking. Avoiding artificially cold environments, such as refrigerated or highly air conditioned spaces, can also help prevent episodes from occurring.
The severity of the disease runs from mild to severe. In people with mild cases, this may be simply an annoyance. Hand warmers may be used on the wrists to warm the blood flowing to the hands. More serious cases require medical intervention due to the risks of gangrene and possible digital amputation. Microvascular surgery of the affected areas is a possible therapy.
Treatment for Raynaud's disease may include prescription medicines that dilate blood vessels, such as calcium channel blockers (nifedipine). Mild cases of Raynaud's can be addressed by biofeedback or a technique to help control involuntary body functions such as skin temperature. In severe cases, a sympathectomy procedure can be performed. Here, the nerves that signals the blood vessels of the fingertips to constrict are surgically cut.