Raynaud’s syndrome causes spasms in small blood vessels in your fingers and toes. This limits blood flow and leads to symptoms like skin color changes, cold skin and a pins and needles sensation.
Primary Raynaud’s syndrome has no identifiable underlying cause.
An underlying disease or condition usually causes secondary Raynaud’s syndrome (Raynaud’s phenomenon). It’s especially common in people with connective tissue diseases.
Some of these diseases reduce blood flow to your fingers and toes.
Other causes include repetitive motions and some medications.
The lists below break down the many causes of Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Diseases and conditions that can cause Raynaud’s phenomenon
Buerger’s disease (especially in people assigned male at birth who smoke).
Carpal tunnel syndrome.
Mixed connective tissue disease.
Peripheral artery disease (especially in people assigned male at birth over age 50).
Scleroderma and CREST syndrome.
Thoracic outlet syndrome.
Medications and substances that can cause Raynaud’s phenomenon
Chemotherapy (bleomycin, vinblastine).
Decongestants containing phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine.
Migraine medications containing ergotamine.
Stimulant medications (like methylphenidate) that treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Other causes of Raynaud’s phenomenon
Traumatic vasospasm from vibrating tools or repeated pounding with the palm of your hand. This can include playing a piano.
There are two main types of Raynaud’s syndrome:
Primary Raynaud’s syndrome (also called Raynaud’s disease).
Secondary Raynaud’s syndrome (also called Raynaud’s phenomenon).
The chart below lists what you should know about each type.
|Raynaud’s disease (primary)||Raynaud’s phenomenon (secondary)|
|Cause Unknown.||Not linked with an underlying disease. Underlying disease, condition, medication or lifestyle factor.|
|Symptoms Usually mild (skin color changes, numbness, pins and needles).||Doesn’t cause skin ulcers or gangrene. May be mild or more severe. May cause skin ulcers or gangrene.|
|Prevalence More common.||Less common.|
|Treatment Lifestyle changes.||Targets underlying cause. May include medications or procedures.|
As blood flow stops and then returns, your skin color may change from white to blue to red. Some people don’t experience all three changes in skin color.
Feeling cold or numb
This happens when your finger or other affected body part isn’t receiving oxygen-rich blood. It feels like that part of your body has
Feeling warmth, tingling or throbbing
This happens as blood flow returns to your affected body part.
Skin ulcers and gangrene
Longer or more frequent attacks may lead to painful sores on your fingertips. These sores can take a while to heal. Rarely, lack of oxygen to your tissues may lead to tissue death (gangrene).
Healthcare providers can typically diagnose Raynaud’s syndrome from your symptoms.
Your provider may ask you to take photos of your skin changes when they happen.
Your provider may also perform a physical exam and talk with you about your medical and family history.
Raynaud’s syndrome is usually easy to diagnose.
But it may not be obvious whether you have the primary or secondary form. That’s where diagnostic testing can help.
Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test: Blood test that checks for autoimmune diseases.
Complete blood count (CBC): Blood test that checks for a range of conditions.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test: Blood test that detects inflammation in your body. Helps diagnose rheumatoid and autoimmune disorders, among other conditions.
Urinalysis: Urine test that checks for a range of conditions.
Pulse volume recording: Noninvasive test that checks blood flow in your arms and legs.
Rheumatoid factor (RF) test: Blood test that checks for autoimmune diseases.
These drugs help your smallest blood vessels relax and open up. As a result, you have fewer attacks, and those you do have are less severe. Calcium-channel blockers also can help heal skin ulcers on your fingers or toes.
These drugs counteract norepinephrine. That’s a hormone that constricts your blood vessels.
Nitroglycerin skin ointment
This is a cream that you apply to your fingers to help heal skin ulcers.
Other treatment options
Treatment depends on the severity of your condition and whether you have the primary or secondary form. Treatment goals include:
Prevent Raynaud’s attacks.
Help reduce the severity of attacks.
Improve your quality of life.
Treat the underlying disease or condition (if you have secondary Raynaud’s).
Prevent skin ulcers and tissue damage.
For many people, lifestyle changes are enough to manage their condition. These include:
Avoid cold spaces (like the frozen food aisle or extreme air conditioning).
Avoid touching cold objects (like glasses of ice water or cold metal surfaces).
Manage stress and strong emotions that could trigger an attack.
Wear warm clothes during cold weather.