Raynaud's disease is named after Maurice Raynaud, the French physician who first described the symptoms of this condition in 1862. The disorder affects blood flow to the extremities, particularly the fingers and toes but occasionally occurs in the nose and ears.
Exposure to cold, intense emotion and stress causes the blood vessels to constrict. This is known as vasoconstriction. For those with Raynaud's disease, constriction is so significant that it limits blood flow. This in turn causes the affected area to turn white, then blue, before going numb. Raynaud's disease affects approximately 12,000 Canadians.
The causes of Raynaud's disease are unknown. What we do know however, is that the disorder primarily affects women between the ages of 15 and 40 years who are generally in good health.
Cold, pressure, emotional upset and stress can trigger episodes. Once triggered, fingers, toes and occasionally noses and ears turn white and then blue. Loss of feeling may occur and skin is cold to the touch. Episodes can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. As circulation improves, the skin turns red and may tingle. In exceptional cases, lesions may appear on the skin.
We recommend that you consult your physician if you experience any of the above mentioned symptoms. A medical professional will be able to observe the effects of cold on your extremities and may request a blood flow test to confirm that you have Raynaud's disease.
There is no cure for Raynaud's disease. Certain precautions however, can help improve the situation.
- Avoid smoking - Smoking constricts the blood vessels throughout the body and can trigger an episode.
- Avoid the use of caffeine.
- Keep warm - Wearing warm gloves and socks is often enough to prevent episodes in cold weather.
- Try to avoid feet and hands lesions.
- Avoid the use of instruments or tools that produces vibrations.
- Relax - If stress or intense emotions cause your symptoms to appear, relaxation exercises can, in some cases, resolve the problem.
- Avoid the use of some medications available without prescriptions, especially decongestants.
If symptoms occur, let the affected parts of the body soak in lukewarm water. If episodes occur frequently or last a long time, a medication that will decrease the constriction of blood vessels can be prescribed. Several drugs with different modes of action can be used and the choice is made depending on the patient. Complementary approaches such as ginkgo biloba or acupuncture may also be considered.
Raynaud's Phenomenon vs Raynaud's Syndrome
Raynaud's phenomenon, also known as Secondary Raynaud's syndrome or disease is related to other conditions. It can be the result of an adverse effect to medication or another disease such as scleroderma, Sjögren syndrome, atherosclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis. The symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon closely resemble those of Raynaud's disease but are generally more severe. Treatment is adjusted to suit the root cause.