Raynaud's phenomenon is a common disorder in which the small blood vessels in the extremities are over-sensitive to changes in temperature. There may be as many as ten million sufferers in the UK (that is 1 in 6 of us!) and it is thought up to 20% of the adult population worldwide suffers from varying degrees of the condition. It is found to be more common in females than males and can affect people of any age - babies, young children, adolescents and adults. Many sufferers have never seen a doctor as they are unaware that their condition has a name or that there is anything that can be done to help.
Below are photographs of hands showing classic symptoms of Raynaud's
In this condition, the blood supply to the extremities, usually the fingers and toes but sometimes also the ears and nose, is interrupted. During an attack they become first white and dead looking. They may then turn blue and finally red and burning when the blood flow is restored. There may be considerable pain, numbness or tingling. These symptoms are due to an intermittent lack of blood in the affected parts when the arteries normally supplying them spasmodically contract. An attack will often be triggered by touching cold objects or exposure to cold of any kind. Emotions, such as anxiety, may also play a part as can smoking.
The symptoms of Raynaud's, whether isolated (primary Raynaud's Phenomenon) or secondary to another condition may cause severe pain, discomfort and problems with hand function. For the vast majority of sufferers, Raynaud's is a benign primary condition which may interfere with patients' daily activities but does not cause any long term damage to the extremities.
PRIMARY OR SECONDARY
Raynaud's can be subdivided into primary or secondary. Anyone of any age can develop Primary Raynaud's which occurs spontaneously without any underlying condition being present. It can be hereditary in which case it is usually fairly mild. Secondary Raynaud's is less common and is associated with underlying diseases such as scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. When associated with scleroderma, patients will often suffer more acute symptoms and in severe cases may develop persistent finger ulcers and infection which in very extreme cases may become gangrenous.
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Many Raynaud's patients suffer from chilblains. You can read more about them here.
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The name comes from Maurice Raynaud who discovered the condition in France in the late 1850's.