Overview of Raynaud's Disease

Raynaud's disease is a rare condition in which blood vessels, usually in the hands and feet, narrow excessively in response to cold temperatures or emotional stress. Normally, when body temperature drops, blood vessels in the extremities constrict so that heat can be preserved in the central body. However, for people with Raynaud's (pronounced Rā-nōz), this process is exaggerated.

In people who have Raynaud's, even slight changes in body temperature can lead to an attack, causing the skin to turn white or blue because blood cannot reach the skin's surface. As the skin is warmed or stress is relieved, blood flow returns to the skin and the affected area may turn red and throb.

Each episode of Raynaud's may last from a couple of minutes to a few hours. In most cases, the condition is just an annoyance, but severe cases can cause skin sores and gangrene (i.e., necrosis, tissue death).

Raynaud's disease usually affects the fingers. Approximately 40 percent of people with the condition have episodes in the toes. The condition also can affect the nose, ears, lips, and nipples.

Types of Raynaud's Disease

Raynaud's disease, also called primary Raynaud's, is the most common type. This type occurs with no clear cause and is not related to any other illness or condition. Primary Raynaud's usually affects both hands and both feet. In some cases, people who have primary Raynaud's do not require medical treatment.

Raynaud's phenomenon, also called secondary Raynaud's, is less common, but often is more serious. This type may occur with autoimmune diseases that require treatment, such as scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.

Incidence and Prevalence of Raynaud's Disease

According to the Vascular Disease Foundation, approximately 5 percent of people in the United States have symptoms of Raynaud's disease. Eighty percent of cases occur in women. Incidence of Raynaud's disease is higher in colder climates.

Primary Raynaud's affects about 3 percent of the general population, according to The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. In most cases, primary Raynaud's develops between the ages of 18 and 30.

Secondary Raynaud's commonly occurs between the ages of 35 and 40. Approximately 90 percent of patients with scleroderma, 30 percent of patients with lupus, 20 percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and 30 percent of patients with Sjogren's syndrome develop secondary Raynaud's.

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

Published: 02 Nov 2008

Last Modified: 02 Oct 2015