Bryn Mawr Dermatology

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Raynaud’s Syndrome: Overview, Causes and Treatments


As winter wraps its chilly fingers around us, many experience the familiar discomfort of cold hands and feet. However, for some, this discomfort goes beyond the usual winter woes and signals a condition known as Raynaud’s syndrome. As many as five percent of the United States population suffers from Raynaud’s, with 80 percent of those affected being women. 

Raynaud’s syndrome can cause fingers and toes to turn white, blue, and red, accompanied by numbness and tingling. Understanding and managing this condition can significantly improve your quality of life. This article will guide you through everything you need to know about Raynaud’s, including its causes, symptoms, and effective treatments. Whether you’re seeking to understand your symptoms better or looking for advanced care options, we’ve got you covered. 

While this article spells out some important information about Raynaud’s syndrome, we highly recommend you read the full article, here are the key points we will focus on:

Table of Contents

Raynaud's syndrome

What is Raynaud's?

Raynaud’s is more than just a reaction to cold temperatures; it’s a condition that can significantly affect your daily life. Let’s delve into what Raynaud’s entails and why it’s crucial to distinguish between its different forms.

A healthy circulatory system ensures blood flows freely to all body parts, supplying vital oxygen and nutrients. However, for individuals with Raynaud’s, this process is disrupted. The condition causes an exaggerated response to cold or stress, narrowing small blood vessels in the extremities. This results in a temporary reduction of blood flow, primarily affecting fingers and toes. The physical signs may include the affected areas turning white as blood flow is restricted, followed by the skin turning a bluish color as the blood vessels react, and finally the affected areas may turn red as the blood flow returns.


During the colder months, reports of numbness, tingling, and cold extremities increase, but not all these symptoms necessarily indicate the same type of Raynaud’s. It’s essential to understand the difference between Raynaud’s disease and Raynaud’s phenomenon for proper management and treatment.

Raynaud’s Disease vs Phenomenon

Raynaud's Disease (Primary Raynaud's)

This form occurs independently of other diseases. It’s the more common and less medically severe version. The cause is largely unknown, but is thought to be related to how the nervous system controls blood vessel dilation and constriction. Symptoms can often be managed with lifestyle changes and self-care measures.

Raynaud's Phenomenon (Secondary Raynaud's)

This form is less common but more severe and is associated with other medical conditions, such as autoimmune or vascular diseases. Secondary Raynaud requires addressing the underlying conditions to effectively manage symptoms and prevent complications.

Understanding which type of Raynaud’s you have is crucial for effective treatment. While primary Raynaud’s can often be managed with simple lifestyle adjustments, secondary Raynaud’s may require more comprehensive and advanced medical intervention. 

What Causes Raynaud's?

While the exact trigger for Raynaud’s can vary, distinguishing between primary and secondary Raynaud’s helps identify the potential causes.

Studies show that Raynaud’s symptoms, particularly in its secondary form (phenomenon), are often a manifestation of underlying health issues, many involving the immune or circulatory systems. Recognizing these causes is crucial for patients and healthcare providers to manage the condition effectively.

1. Raynaud's Disease

Primary Raynaud’s Disease’s specific causes may be unclear, but certain factors are well-recognized as its triggers, such as:

    1. Cold and Stress: These are the most significant triggers for Raynaud’s attacks. Exposure to cold causes the small arteries in the extremities to constrict excessively, reducing blood flow. Similarly, stress and emotional upset can also induce this constriction.
    2. Other Factors: While the direct cause is still being studied, genetic factors and hypersensitivity of the blood vessels to cold and stress are considered significant contributors. 

2. Raynaud's Phenomenon

Raynaud’s Phenomenon or Secondary Raynaud’s is linked to various medical conditions, primarily affecting connective tissue or the autoimmune system. These include:

    1. Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus): An autoimmune disease affecting multiple organs and body systems. Besides joint pain and fatigue, lupus can cause vascular issues that exacerbate Raynaud’s symptoms.
    2. Scleroderma: A group of autoimmune diseases that cause skin and connective tissue to harden and tighten. The tightening of the skin can severely restrict blood flow, making Raynaud’s symptoms more pronounced.
    3. CREST Syndrome: CREST syndrome is a subtype of scleroderma characterized by five main features: Calcinosis (calcium deposits in the skin), Raynaud’s Phenomenon, Esophageal dysmotility, Sclerodactyly (thickening and tightening of the skin on the fingers and toes), and Telangiectasias (small dilated blood vessels near the skin surface). The presence of Raynaud’s Phenomenon as one of the core components directly links CREST syndrome to circulatory issues, making it a significant condition to monitor in patients experiencing Raynaud’s symptoms.
    4. Buerger Disease: This vascular disease causes blood vessels to inflame, clot, and restrict blood flow, significantly worsening Raynaud’s symptoms.
    5. Sjögren Syndrome: An autoimmune disorder that primarily causes dry eyes and mouth.
    6. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): An autoimmune disorder affecting the joints, RA can cause systemic inflammation affecting the blood vessels, aggravating Raynaud’s.
    7. Occlusive Vascular Disease: Conditions like atherosclerosis reduce blood flow, potentially triggering Raynaud’s episodes in affected individuals.
    8. Polymyositis: An inflammatory disease causing muscle weakness and inflammation, interfering with circulatory health, and indirectly contributing to the severity of Raynaud’s symptoms.
    9. Blood Disorders: Diseases such as Cryoglobulinemia, which can cause  blockage in the blood vessels.
    10. Thyroid Disorders: Abnormal thyroid function can disrupt body temperature regulation and blood flow, factors closely associated with Raynaud’s.
    11. Pulmonary Hypertension: Increased blood pressure in lung arteries can affect overall circulatory health, influencing Raynaud’s severity.

For individuals experiencing symptoms of Raynaud’s, it is essential to get checked out by a dermatologist. Specialists at Bryn Mawr Dermatology are equipped to determine whether you have primary or secondary Raynaud’s and can provide personalized management plans to help control symptoms and improve overall health.

How is Raynaud's Diagnosed?

Diagnosing Raynaud involves a combination of clinical evaluation and diagnostic tests to distinguish between primary and secondary forms of the condition. Physicians aim to understand the full scope of symptoms and any potential underlying causes.

Key Factors in Diagnosing Raynaud’s:

  1. Thorough Patient Medical History: A detailed discussion about the patient’s symptoms, including their onset, duration, and any triggers or alleviating factors, provides crucial insights into the nature of the condition.
    1. Uni vs. Bilateral Symptoms: Identifying whether symptoms occur in both hands and feet (bilateral) or just one side (unilateral) helps differentiate between primary and secondary Raynaud’s. Primary Raynaud’s typically affects both sides, while secondary often affects one side more than the other.
    2. Other Medical Conditions: Screening for associated autoimmune or connective tissue diseases is essential, as these can indicate secondary Raynaud’s.
    3. Check Medications: Some medications can contribute to Raynaud’s symptoms. Reviewing the patient’s current and past medications can identify potential triggers.
  2. Blood Tests and Vascular Studies: Blood tests can detect markers of autoimmune diseases, and vascular studies, such as Doppler ultrasound, assess blood flow and the health of blood vessels. These tests help confirm the diagnosis and understand the condition’s severity.

When Should You See a Dermatologist to Diagnose and Treat Your Symptoms of Raynaud's?

Identifying the right time to seek medical advice for Raynaud’s is critical for effective management. Here are clear indicators for when a dermatologist’s expertise is needed:

  • Severe or Escalating Symptoms: If symptoms intensify or worsen.
  • Disruption to Daily Life: When individuals cannot carry out routine activities.
  • One-sided Symptoms: If symptoms appear on only one side of your body.
  • Additional Symptoms: Joint pain, skin rashes, or muscle weakness.
  • Symptoms After 30: Experiencing Raynaud’s symptoms for the first time when over 30.
  • Symptoms in Children Under 12: Early signs of Raynaud’s in children, such as color changes in fingers or toes, numbness, and avoidance of cold activities, necessitate a specialist’s evaluation.

A timely visit to a dermatologist, such as the team at Bryn Mawr Dermatology, is essential for accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment planning.

Why Choose Bryn Mawr Dermatology for Treating Raynaud's?

Bryn Mawr Dermatology stands at the forefront of treating Raynaud’s, offering personalized care and advanced treatment options. Our team is dedicated to providing a comprehensive approach to managing your symptoms effectively. Unlike other practices, we prioritize understanding your unique condition and crafting a tailored treatment plan.

If you’re navigating the challenges of Raynaud’s, let Bryn Mawr Dermatology guide you towards a comfortable, symptom-free life. Schedule an evaluation today to explore your treatment options. Our state-of-the-art facilities and compassionate team ensure a welcoming environment from the moment you enter. Begin your journey to improve your health by calling (610) 525-7800. We’re here to provide the care you deserve. By choosing Bryn Mawr Dermatology, you’re not just getting treatment; you’re gaining a partner in your healthcare journey, dedicated to improving your quality of life.

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Content Review Committee at Bryn Mawr Dermatology

Led by Board Certified Dermatologist, Christine Stanko, MD, FAAD, Bryn Mawr Dermatology incorporates a patient-focused outlook in every decision since we first opened our doors on the Main Line in 2005.

By: Bryn Mawr Dermatology, Published: Feb 12, 2024
Medically Reviewed By: Christine Stanko, MD, FAAD – Feb 12, 2024

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