Raynaud's Phenomenon

Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition that causes decreased blood flow to the fingers. Sometimes, it may also cause reduced blood flow to the ears, toes, nipples, knees or nose.

The reduced blood flow occurs when there are spasms in the blood vessels in these areas of the body. These spasms occur in response to cold, stress or emotional upset.

There are two types of Raynaud’s phenomenon:

  • Primary Raynaud’s occurs on its own (unrelated to any other disease) and is the most common type; it often begins between the ages of 15 and 25
  • Secondary Raynaud’s is generally more severe and occurs along with other diseases, usually autoimmune or connective-tissue diseases such as:
    • Lupus (systemic lupus erythematous) 
    • Scleroderma 
    • CREST syndrome (a form of scleroderma)
    • Buerger disease
    • Sjögren syndrome
    • Rheumatoid arthritis 
    • Occlusive vascular disease (blockage or narrowing of blood vessels), such as atherosclerosis
    • Polymyositis
    • Blood disorders, such as cryoglobulinemia
    • Thyroid disorders
    • Pulmonary hypertension

For most people living with Raynaud’s phenomenon, the condition is more of a nuisance than a serious health issue. Avoiding triggers, especially cold, can help prevent the spasms that cause symptoms.

In rare cases, sores may occur on the pads of fingers. Also rarely, these sores may progress to gangrene, which may lead to finger amputation—which is why it’s important to avoid the triggers that cause symptoms.

Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Cooper University Health Care’s Division of Rheumatology has a team of expert, board-certified rheumatologists with extensive experience in diagnosing and treating both primary and secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon. Our capabilities include:

  • Thorough diagnostic testing: Diagnosis begins with a comprehensive medical history, physical exam and lab assessment:
    • You may be given a cold challenge test in which your hands are exposed to cold and your doctor evaluates the color changes in your hands and fingers. Your doctor may also use a microscope to look at the tiny blood vessels in your fingernails.
    • Adults who show signs of Raynaud’s phenomenon after age 35 may be undergo blood tests to check for underlying disease linked to Raynaud’s
  • A multidisciplinary team approach to care—Because secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon is linked with other underlying diseases, effective care requires a multidisciplinary team approach. As an academic health system, Cooper has experts in more than 75 specialties, giving you convenient access to all the expertise you need, all in one place.

Raynaud’s Phenomenon Causes and Risk Factors

The precise cause of Raynaud’s is unknown. It’s possible that certain disorders in which the blood is thicker than normal due to excess platelets or red blood cells may cause Raynaud’s. Or, receptors in the blood that control the narrowing of blood vessels may be more sensitive in people with this condition.

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing Raynaud’s, including:

  • A connective-tissue or autoimmune disease
  • Chemical exposure
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Injury or trauma
  • Repetitive actions, such as typing or using vibrating tools like a jack hammer
  • Side effects from certain medicines

Raynaud’s Phenomenon Symptoms

Raynaud’s symptoms vary from person to person, but generally can include:

  • Fingers that turn pale/white then blue when exposed to cold, or during stress or emotional upset, then red when the hands are warmed
  • Hands that become swollen and painful when warmed
  • In severe cases, sores can develop on the finger pads
  • Rarely, these sores lead to gangrene which can require finger amputation

Managing Raynaud’s Phenomenon

There is no cure for Raynaud’s phenomenon, but it can be managed with appropriate treatment and preventive strategies tailored to your symptoms, age, general health and how severe the condition is. This may include:

  • Avoid exposure to cold
  • Wear gloves, socks, scarf and a hat to stay warm if you are exposed to cold
  • Stop smoking
  • Wear finger guards over fingers with sores
  • Avoid trauma or vibrations to the hand (such as with vibrating tools)
  • Take blood pressure medicines during the winter months to help reduce constriction of the blood vessels

If you have secondary Raynaud’s due to an underlying cause, such as scleroderma or lupus, it may be more difficult to manage attacks. Work with your doctor to manage your underlying condition, which may decrease attacks of Raynaud’s.

If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your doctor know.

Make an Appointment With a Raynaud's Phenomenon Expert at Cooper

To learn more about the services available for treating Raynaud’s phenomenon in the Division of Rheumatology or to request an appointment, please call (855) 646-9951 (855.646.9951).