Raynaud Phenomenon

Also known as: Raynaud’s phenomenon, Raynaud’s disease, RP

What is Raynaud Phenomenon?

Raynaud phenomenon refers to the short-lived exaggerated normal response (spasm) to cold exposure or emotional stress. The spasm affects the arteries/small arterioles mainly in the hands and feet, it can also affect the nose, ears and lips.

This overreaction to a cold environment results in decreased blood flow to the affected area.

RP occurs more frequently in girls and tends to start in early adolescence, around 11-12 years of age.

What causes Raynaud phenomenon?

There are two kinds of RP.

  • Primary Raynaud's: (80%-90% of cases) RP can occur on its own. While the underlying cause of this is unknown, in 25% of children there is a family history of RP with at least 3 abnormal genes identified. Other risk factors include; certain foods and drugs used to treat ADHD.
  • Secondary Raynaud’s: RP can also occur following inflammatory damage blood vessels (vasculitis) as part of an underlying disease process, as a response to medications or many many other clinical conditions. Secondary RP may indicate a more serious underlying medical situation, usually in young adults and is also found to occur in families.

What are the symptoms of Raynaud phenomenon?

Initially, in Primary RP, with artery and arteriolar spasm, the affected area becomes white followed by blue as the arteries/arterioles remain closed. If fingers are involved they feel cold, numb resulting in clumsiness. Finally as vessels relax again arterial/arteriolar blood rushes into the area and the area becomes pink again, now with a feeling of warmth, tingling and throbbing.

Generally symptoms do not cause major concern and the whole process takes approximately 15-20 minutes to resolve once the trigger has been removed.

With Secondary RP, the vasospasm and lack of blood flow may be so severe that it causes damage to the tissues affected.

What are Raynaud phenomenon care options?

For Primary RP, wearing warm clothes in the cold winter weather, avoiding the touch of cold items, controlling emotional stress, drinking less caffeine, and avoid smoking. A number of medications are available if symptoms are frequent and/or severe.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: August 19, 2021 02:35 PM

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