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Patient education: Raynaud phenomenon (The Basics)

Patient education: Raynaud phenomenon (The Basics)

What is Raynaud phenomenon? — Raynaud phenomenon ("RP") is a condition that can cause the fingers and toes to turn white or purple-blue.

RP does not always cause symptoms, but people who have it sometimes get an "attack" when they feel cold, stressed, or startled. RP is more common in females than males.

Normally, blood vessels in parts of the body become narrow under certain conditions, such as when it is very cold out. In people with RP, the blood vessels become much more narrow than usual during these times. This causes symptoms.

Most people with RP have normal blood vessels. But some people with RP also have another disease that affects their blood vessels.

What are the symptoms of RP? — Most often, RP affects the fingers. During an attack, the fingers suddenly become cold and turn white or purple-blue (picture 1). Attacks usually begin in the index, middle, or ring fingers and then spread to the fingers in both hands. The thumb is not usually affected. During an attack, your hand might feel numb, clumsy, or like it has "pins and needles."

It does not need to be very cold out to have an attack. Attacks can happen when you go from a warm area to a cooler area, such as walking into an air-conditioned building.

RP can also affect other parts of the body. Your toes, ears, nose, face, knees, and nipples can become white or blue when they are cold.

Once you warm up or are no longer stressed, the symptoms go away and the skin becomes pink or red. This usually takes 15 to 20 minutes.

People who have RP plus another disease affecting their blood vessels can have more severe symptoms. Their attacks can last longer, and they can develop pain or open sores on their fingers and toes.

Is there a test for RP? — No. But your doctor or nurse should be able to tell if you have it by talking with you and doing an exam. It can help to take pictures of your hands when you are having an attack. Your doctor or nurse might also order blood tests.

Is there anything I can do on my own to prevent attacks of RP? — Yes. To help prevent attacks, you can:

Try not to let your body get cold too quickly and or change temperatures too quickly. Keep your whole body warm, and avoid cold breezes or cold places when possible. You can dress warmly by wearing layers of clothes, hats, and mittens or gloves.

Avoid smoking – Smoking can make your symptoms worse.

Avoid medicines that cause blood vessels to become narrow, such as cold medicines or diet pills.

Avoid caffeine, such as coffee and caffeinated tea and soda. Caffeine can make your symptoms worse.

If you have an attack, try warming your hands, which can stop symptoms. Place your hands in warm water or in a warm place, such as in your armpits.

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — Yes. If you continue to have attacks after trying the things listed above, talk with your doctor or nurse. Your doctor might prescribe a medicine to help reduce your symptoms. Some people take medicine for RP only during the cold winter months.

You should also see your doctor or nurse if you have an attack that does not get better. If your symptoms do not go away, your doctor or nurse might send you to the hospital for further treatment.

More on this topic

Patient education: Raynaud phenomenon (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Oct 01, 2023.
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