Causes and Risk Factors for Raynaud's Disease

The cause for primary Raynaud's is unknown, but researchers are studying possible genetic (hereditary) links. Secondary Raynaud's (Raynaud's phenomenon) develops with another illness or as a result of injury or environmental factors (e.g., working conditions).

Causes for Raynaud's phenomenon include the following:

  • Scleroderma (chronic autoimmune disease that causes scar tissue to develop on the skin and in organs, eventually leading to decreased blood flow to the hands and feet)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (disease that leads to inflammation, pain, and stiffness in the joints)
  • Lupus (chronic inflammatory disease that can affect many areas of the body, including the nervous system, skin, joints, blood vessels, heart, lungs, and kidneys)
  • Sjogren's syndrome (condition that often accompanies scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus; causes inflammation of the glands that produce tears and saliva, resulting in chronic dry eyes and mouth)
  • Buerger's disease (affects the arteries of the arms and legs, blocking blood flow to the hands, fingers, feet, and toes)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive trauma (repetitive activities, such as typing or playing the piano, can damage nerves around blood vessels in the hands)
  • Smoking (narrows blood vessels and can prompt Raynaud's attacks)
  • Injuries or trauma (e.g., surgery, fractures, frostbite)

Workplace conditions can contribute to Raynaud's in a couple of ways. Workers who use vibrating tools (e.g., jackhammer) can develop a type of Raynaud's called vibration-induced white finger. In the plastics industry, workers exposed to vinyl chloride are at increased risk for developing Raynaud's.

Medications also can play a role in the development of Raynaud's. Certain over-the-counter cold remedies and drugs used to treat migraine headaches or high blood pressure (hypertension) can increase the risk. Raynaud's disease can occur as a side effect of chemotherapy and estrogen replacement therapy (ERT).

Other risk factors for Raynaud's include the following:

  • Age (more common between the ages of 18 and 30)
  • Gender (more common in women)
  • Heredity (about 33% of people with Raynaud's have a first degree relative who also has the condition)
  • Living in colder climates
  • Medical conditions (pulmonary hypertension, hyperthyroidism, certain types of cancer, and atherosclerosis may increase the risk for secondary Raynaud's)

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 03 Nov 2008

Last Modified: 21 Sep 2010