Raynaud's Syndrome in Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS

Are your hands and feet cold all the time? That's a common complaint in people with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). In some cases, it's just a symptom.

In others cases, however, it could be due to a common overlapping condition called Raynaud's syndrome (also known as Raynaud's phenomenon).

Woman warming her hands on a cup of coffee
Snaphappyraa / Getty Images

What Is Raynaud's Syndrome?

In Raynaud's syndrome, the blood vessels constrict more than they should, which allows less blood to get through. That not only makes your extremities cold, it makes them extremely difficult to warm up. The most commonly affected body parts are the fingers and toes, but your lips, nose, ear lobes, knees, and nipples may also be involved.

Raynaud's isn't all about the cold, though. The diminished blood flow can cause pain in the affected areas, and it may also cause the skin there to turn blue. Skin ulcers (sores) are possible, since prolonged episodes of low blood flow can damage your tissues.

Increased symptoms, called attacks, are often triggered by exposure to cold or high levels of stress. An attack may last for just a few minutes or could go on for hours.

Some people have Raynaud's syndrome as a primary condition, meaning that it doesn't accompany another illness. In other people, it's a secondary condition, meaning that it wouldn't be present without the other illness.

Raynaud's is also common in lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren's syndrome.

We don't yet know what causes Raynaud's syndrome and there is no cure.

Diagnosing Raynaud's Syndrome

A Raynaud's syndrome diagnosis is generally based on symptoms and a physical exam. However, your doctor may also order a cold stimulation test, in which heat sensors will record the temperature in your fingers before and after soaking them in cold water.

Your doctor may also ask a lot of questions about your medical history and perform additional tests to look for causes of secondary Raynaud's syndrome. These are also tests that are common in the exclusion process for a diagnosis of FMS, and may be part of the ME/CFS diagnostic process, depending on your symptoms. They include:

Treating and Managing Raynaud's Syndrome

Several treatment and management strategies can help ease the symptoms of Raynaud's. The first line of defense is modifying your habits to help prevent symptoms. You can do this by:

  • Not exposing your hands to cold or protecting them when you can't avoid exposure
  • Not smoking
  • Not wearing anything that constricts blood flow, including rings or tight socks
  • Exercising to improve circulation
  • Managing your stress
  • Avoiding possible symptom triggers, including vibrations

When a Raynaud's attack occurs, you can help ease it by:

  • Moving or massaging the affected parts
  • Finding a warmer place
  • Running warm (not hot!) water over the cold areas

Medical treatment options include:

Some alternative treatments, including biofeedback and supplementation with gingko or fish oil, have been recommended for treating Raynaud's. However, a 2009 review of available research found that they did not make a significant difference.

Raynaud's in Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

We don't know exactly why Raynaud's is common in people with FMS and ME/CFS, but it's possible that they share underlying physiological properties. Raynaud's symptoms are caused by inadequate blood flow, and some research indicates impaired blood flow in FMS and ME/CFS.

Raynaud's symptoms may aggravate certain symptoms of FMS and ME/CFS, which often involve temperature sensitivity. Getting chilled can cause pain for someone with FMS/ME/CFS and may, in some cases, trigger a symptom flare. That makes it especially important to prevent Raynaud's symptoms in those patients.

While treatments for Raynaud's and FMS/ME/CFS are different, lifestyle changes such as not smoking, managing stress and gentle exercise (appropriate to your tolerance level) may help alleviate symptoms of all those conditions.

If you suspect you have Raynaud's syndrome, be sure to bring it up with your doctor so you can be properly diagnosed and treated.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Scolnik M, Vasta B, Hart DJ, Shipley JA, Mchugh NJ, Pauling JD. Symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon (RP) in fibromyalgia syndrome are similar to those reported in primary RP despite differences in objective assessment of digital microvascular function and morphology. Rheumatol Int. 2016;36(10):1371-7. doi:10.1007/s00296-016-3483-6

  2. Rowe PC, Underhill RA, Friedman KJ, et al. Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosis and management in young people: a primer. Front Pediatr. 2017;5:121. doi:10.3389/fped.2017.00121

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Cold hands. Updated July 25, 2018.

  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Raynaud's phenomenon.

  5. Wigley FM. Patient education: Raynaud phenomenon (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. Updated March 5, 2018.

  6. MedlinePlus. Raynaud's disease. Updated May 19, 2016.

  7. National Institutes of Health (NIAMSD). Raynaud’s phenomenon. Updated October 2016.

  8. National Institutes of Health (NHLBI). Raynaud's.

  9. MedlinePlus. Fibromyalgia. January 29, 2018.

Additional Reading