Basic Facts of Raynaud's Phenomenon

Woman with arthritis
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Raynaud's phenomenon is an arthritis-related condition which occurs when blood vessels constrict. The decreased blood flow can cause pain and discomfort in the affected area as well as discoloration of the skin.

Raynaud's can occur as a primary or secondary condition. As a primary condition, it is not associated with any other disease and is often referred to as Raynaud's disease. If Raynaud's symptoms are associated with another health condition, it is referred to as Raynaud's Phenomenon. Primary Raynaud's is more common than secondary Raynaud's and usually less severe.


The cause of Raynaud's phenomenon is not completely understood. It is known that the constriction of blood vessels in affected areas (known as vasospasm) can be brought on by exposure to cold and excessive stress, temporarily limiting blood flow. Some researchers are also studying if genetics is related to Raynaud's phenomenon.

Conditions and factors which cause secondary Raynaud's phenomenon include:


The vasospasm which occurs during a Raynaud's attack usually lasts 15 minutes but can range from just one minute to several hours. Pain, swelling, tingling, throbbing, numbness, and discoloration can all occur in the affected area. Fingers and toes are the most common site of Raynaud's phenomenon. In Raynaud's disease (primary), both hands and both feet are commonly affected. Besides fingers and toes, Raynaud's can affect the ears, nose, lips, knees, and nipples.


A physical examination by your doctor will look for physical symptoms related to Raynaud's phenomenon such as blueness or pallor to skin and skin ulcers. Blood tests, including erythrocyte sedimentation rate (sedrate) and antinuclear antibody test (ANA), are routinely ordered to rule out other arthritis-related conditions. Two tests which specifically are used to help diagnose Raynaud's phenomenon are:

  • Nailfold capillaroscopy
  • Cold stimulation test


Treatment of Raynaud's phenomenon is focused on prevention - preventing future Raynaud's attacks and preventing permanent tissue damage. Treatment can include:

  • Keeping warm and protecting against exposure to cold.
  • Stress management
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Stop smoking, if you are a smoker
  • Exercise to increase circulation
  • Surgery, but rarely needed

Medications used to treat Raynaud's symptoms include calcium channel blockers, catecholamine deceptors, vasodilators, and smooth muscle relaxers.

Prevalence of Raynaud's Phenomenon

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Conditions estimates that 5 to 10 percent of the United States population is affected by Raynaud's phenomenon.

  • Seventy-five percent of primary Raynaud's cases involve women 15 to 40 years old.
  • 85 to 95 percent of people with scleroderma or MCTD also have Raynaud's phenomenon.
  • One-third of lupus patients have Raynaud's symptoms.

Points of Interest

  • Keeping warm is the key to managing Raynaud's phenomenon, even if that means wearing gloves when you are inside the house.
  • Running warm water over affected cold areas can offer relief.
  • Remaining calm is essential.
  • Raynaud's can begin at any age.
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Article Sources
  • Raynaud's Phenomenon. Arthritis Foundation. December 2006.
  • Raynaud's Phenomenon. NIAMS. December 2006.