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Raynaud's phenomenon - What is Raynaud's phenomenon?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

Raynaud's phenomenon is an illness that can cause blood to suddenly be unable to reach parts of your body. It usually affects your fingers and toes. During an attack, they change colour, and feel numb or painful. This can be unpleasant but it isn't usually serious. The simplest way to prevent attacks is to keep warm. Some medicines may help if your symptoms are severe.

We've brought together the best research about Raynaud's and weighed up the evidence about how to treat it. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you.

If you have Raynaud's, your fingers, your toes, and other parts of your body can suddenly become numb, white, and cold.

raynauds-blue-hands_default.jpgThis happens because blood can't get to them. Then they go blue because they're not getting enough oxygen. As the blood returns, they go very red. They may then feel hot and painful.

Raynaud's phenomenon is named after the doctor who first linked having the attacks with going out in the cold.[1]

These sudden Raynaud's attacks happen because small blood vessels in your fingers and toes suddenly become narrow and stop your blood flowing normally. This can also happen to your nose and ear lobes and, more rarely, your nipples and tongue.[2] Attacks usually happen because of cold temperatures, but some people get attacks if they feel upset or stressed.[2]

raynauds-red-hands_default.jpgYou don't have to get really cold for an attack to begin. People who have Raynaud's have blood vessels that are more sensitive to cool weather. Just a small change in temperature can trigger an attack.

In most people with Raynaud's, the disease isn't connected to any serious medical problem. In fact, nobody knows what causes it.[1]

You can get Raynaud's at any age, although some research has shown that most people get symptoms before the age of 40.[3] Sometimes the condition runs in families.[4]

Some people have Raynaud's caused by a more serious illness, such as lupus (a disorder of your immune system that can affect many different parts of the body) and rheumatoid arthritis. The symptoms are often much more serious.[4] Some people get Raynaud's because of medicines they are taking, such as beta-blockers and drugs for migraines. And people who work with vibrating tools, such as road diggers, also have a higher chance of getting it.[5]

Here, we are only looking at treatments for Raynaud's that is not connected to a more serious condition.

Glossary

Beta-blockers

These drugs work by blocking the effects of certain chemicals produced by your body (such as adrenaline). Beta-blockers slow your heart rate and improve the beating of your heart. They are often used in people with angina or heart failure.

immune system

Your immune system is made up of the parts of your body that fight infection. When bacteria or viruses get into your body, it's your immune system that kills them. Antibodies and white blood cells are part of your immune system. They travel in your blood and attack bacteria, viruses and other things that could damage your body.

rheumatoid arthritis

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your joints get painful, swollen, and stiff. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by inflammation inside your joints. It happens when your immune system attacks the lining of your joints.

For more terms related to Raynaud's phenomenon

Citations

For references related to Raynaud's phenomenon click here.
Last Updated: September 14, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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