Key points | Symptoms | Primary Raynaud’s phenomenon | Secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention | Complications | Where to get help | How we can help | More to explore | Download PDF
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition that can cause discomfort as the blood supply to your extremities becomes reduced. In general fingers and toes are affected, but other parts of your body such as nose, lips and ears can be affected too.
It can happen in cold temperatures or when you’re in an emotionally stressful situation.
Raynaud’s phenomenon can occur on its own (primary Raynaud’s phenomenon), or it can be linked to another disease or condition (secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon). It can last from just a few minutes to many hours.
Raynaud’s phenomenon doesn’t usually cause permanent damage. However it can be a symptom of a more serious underlying illness, so it’s important to see your doctor if you experience it.
Your body protects your internal organs (your core) from heat loss in cold weather by redirecting your blood away from your extremities such as the fingers and toes.
With a Raynaud’s attack, this reaction is exaggerated. Blood vessels in your extremities narrow, starving the tissues of blood and causing the characteristic blue or white colour change.
When this happens you may experience stinging pain, tingling and numbness in your fingers or toes. When blood flow returns, the skin turns from blue to red and finally back to the normal pink colour.
Circulation to the rest of the body is generally normal.
Primary Raynaud’s phenomenon (or Raynaud’s disease or just Raynaud’s) is the most common form of Raynaud’s phenomenon. It affects more women than men, generally under the age of 30. If you have a family member with primary Raynaud’s, you’re more at risk of developing it.
Other common causes are:
It’s not hard to diagnose Raynaud’s phenomenon, but it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between the primary or secondary form of the condition.
Your doctor may use a range of methods to work out which form you have including:
For most people, Raynaud’s phenomenon is a nuisance rather than a disabling condition.
Keeping your body and extremities warm is helpful to prevent attacks. You should also dress appropriately for the cold with gloves, thick socks and warm layers.
If you’re outside and you experience an attack, go indoors and soak your fingers or toes in warm (not hot) water. If you can’t go indoors, try to warm your fingers or toes by wiggling them. You could also place your hands under your armpits, make circles with your arms or try to massage your hands or feet. If a stressful situation triggers the attack, try to remove yourself from the situation and relax.
Talk with your doctor if your Raynaud’s isn’t controlled by these simple measures. You may need to be prescribed medications that widen your blood vessels and improve circulation.
For secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon, it’s also important that the underlying condition (e.g. lupus or rheumatoid arthritis) is treated effectively.
There’s no cure for Raynaud’s phenomenon. Managing the condition means that you need to try to avoid triggers, especially exposure to cold temperatures and stressful situations.
Things you can do to prevent an attack:
In most cases, Raynaud’s phenomenon is harmless and has no lasting effects. However in severe cases loss of blood flow can permanently damage the tissue.
Complications of severe Raynaud’s include:
Talk with your doctor if you notice any of these problems or if you notice other changes to your symptoms.
Call our MSK Help Line and speak to our nurses. Phone 1800 263 265 or email email@example.com.
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This information has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Musculoskeletal Australia.