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Raynaud's Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Raynaud's Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Raynaud's syndrome is a disorder in which the blood vessels of the fingers and the toes constrict, leading to the skin turning pale or patchy blue to red. The usual triggers of the condition are cold and emotional stress.
Parul Solanki
Raynaud's syndrome is a debilitating condition which is characterized by vasospastic attacks or the constriction of the blood vessels of the fingers and the toes. It can affect the nose, lips, or earlobes as well. For most people, the attack is triggered by emotional stress or extreme cold. Typical reaction is the fingers and toes turning white, then blue and red. This is accompanied by a tingling sensation which might become painful. The attack may last for a few minutes or hours. The disorder is more likely to affect women and people living in the cold climate. Women in the age group of 20 to 40 are susceptible to the disease.

Named after the French physician, Maurice Raynaud, who described the condition in 1862, the term is often used interchangeably with Raynaud's disease. However, there exists a marked difference between the two.

Difference Between Raynaud's Disease and Raynaud's Syndrome

Raynaud's disease can be subdivided into primary and secondary Raynaud's. While Primary Raynaud's or Raynaud's disease is an idiopathic condition which may not have any grave consequences, Secondary Raynaud's, also termed as Raynaud's syndrome or Raynaud's phenomena, leads to more serious problems like skin ulcers or gangrene. It is also possible that the primary form may progress to the secondary form of the infection.

Causes

Although less common as compared to its primary counterpart, the primary cause of this syndrome is the 'connective tissue disorders'. This disorder causes the reduction in the blood flow to the digits by causing the blood walls and the vessels to thicken. People affected with scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, and other connective disorders are affected by this syndrome.

Other than connective disorders, this syndrome can also be caused by eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, or obstructive disorders like Buerger's disease and atherosclerosis. Certain drugs like the beta blockers or the ergotamine drugs for migraine headaches can also cause the disorder. It is also observed that people associated with certain professions like people working in the plastic industry or those involved in the frozen packing industries are at a greater risk of contracting the disorder. Occupationally, it is also associated with the "hand arm vibration syndrome" displayed by people in the drilling industry.

Symptoms

With the poor blood circulation to the fingers and the toes, the usual symptoms of the disorder are blanching or the whitening of the fingers, a tingling feeling or numbness, and a blue numb skin which changes to red. With repeated exposure, the severity of the condition may increase, leading to degeneration of the skin in the fingertips. In case scleroderma is associated with the disorder, it leads to mouth ulcers or gangrene.

Raynaud's syndrome has also manifested in the breastfeeding mothers, leading to the nipples turning white and causing pain while breastfeeding.

Treatment

The treatment concentrates on the avoidance of the triggers, especially environmental or emotional triggers and the cessation of smoking. Extra clothing like gloves and mittens are needed to keep the affected areas warm. In case of emergencies, the patients may be asked to expose the affected digits to tepid water or place it in a warm body cavity. For the more severe cases, drug treatment using calcium channel blockers, like nifedipine, is needed. In an extreme case, surgery leading to amputation might be needed.

Lifestyle changes and many alternative supplements are effective in controlling the disorder which currently affects 5-10% of the US population. It is important that the patient, with the help of the doctor, control the stress and the nuisance associated with this syndrome.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.