Raynaud’s Disease

A medical condition in which the blood vessels, particularly those in the fingers and toes, narrow in response to cold or psychological stress. There are two basic forms of Raynaud’s disease (also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon) — primary and secondary. The primary form more commonly affects women and people residing in cold climates. The secondary form, which usually starts after age 35, is more common in people with connective tissue disorders such as scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome and systemic lupus erythematosus. Blood vessels naturally narrow in response to cold to help the body retain heat, but in Raynaud’s disease, this reaction is stronger than normal. Attacks of Raynaud’s disease may cause fingers and toes to change color from white to blue to red and to become cold and numb. They can throb and tingle as the blood flow returns. In severe cases, Raynaud’s can lead to tissue damage and sores.

People may reduce the duration and severity of attacks by wearing gloves, keeping hands and feet warm and dry and avoiding air conditioning. Biofeedback, which trains people to control their own body temperature, may help decrease the intensity and frequency of attacks. Drugs ordinarily used to treat high blood pressure also may help alleviate Raynaud’s disease. These include calcium-channel blockers such as nifedipine, amlodipine and felodipine; alpha blockers such as prazosin and doxazosin; and vasodilators such as losartan and sildenafil. Nitrogycerin cream may be applied to fingers to heal sores. In some cases, surgery or chemical injections may be needed.

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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