What Is Raynaud's Phenomenon?
Raynaud's phenomenon is a disorder characterized by blood vessel abnormality caused by overactivity of smooth muscle in the wall of arteries, leading to spasms (vasospasms with narrowing) of the small vessels that supply blood to the arms, legs, hands, feet, and sometimes the ears and nose. The typical features of Raynaud's phenomenon include changes in the color of skin from pale to bluish to red, which typically occur after exposure to cold temperatures. Raynaud's phenomenon is usually diagnosed in people younger than 40 years of age and occurs five times more frequently in women than in men. The disorder is sometimes referred to as "white fingers disease."
What Is the Cause of Raynaud's Phenomenon?
The classification of Raynaud's phenomenon is usually separated in two categories: idiopathic or primary Raynaud's phenomenon, when no associated disease is identified, and Raynaud's phenomenon secondary to other diseases (usually autoimmune).
- Factors that can bring on Raynaud's phenomenon (all vasoconstrictive influences), include the following:
- Exposure to cold or hot environments
- Mental stressors
- Certain occupations (vibration from tools, like jackhammers)
- Smoking (nicotine is a stimulant/vasoconstrictor)
- Chemical exposure (such as vinyl chloride)
- Diseases causing Raynaud's phenomenon
- Collagen vascular diseases: Seventy percent of patients with scleroderma (systemic sclerosis) develop Raynaud's phenomenon. Other disorders associated with Raynaud's phenomenon include systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjögren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, mixed connective tissue disease, or dermatomyositis/polymyositis.
- Arterial diseases, including atherosclerosis, thromboangiitis obliterans, or Buerger's disease, involving the small arteries and veins of the hands and feet also have an association with Raynaud's phenomenon.
- Neurologic disorders: Thoracic outlet syndrome, with compression of nerves as they course through the neck and shoulder area, carpal tunnel syndrome, and occasionally stroke, intervertebral disk disease, and spinal cord tumors may produce Raynaud's phenomenon.
- Blood disorders that cause the blood to thicken or turn to sludge (polycythemia).
- Miscellaneous disorders such as hypothyroidism
- Medications that may cause or worsen Raynaud's phenomenon
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/3/2016
Steven S. Bhimji, MD, MSc, PhD
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