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Raynaud syndrome, also known as Raynaud's phenomenon, is a medical condition in which spasm of arteries cause episodes of reduced blood flow. Typically, the fingers, and less commonly the toes, are involved. Rarely, the nose, ears, or lips are affected. The episodes result in the affected part turning white and then blue. Often, numbness or pain occurs. As blood flow returns, the area turns red and burns. The episodes typically last minutes, but can last several hours.
Episodes are often triggered by cold or emotional stress. The two main types are primary Raynaud's, when the cause is unknown, and secondary Raynaud's, which occurs as a result of another condition. Secondary Raynaud's can occur due to a connective-tissue disorder, such as scleroderma or lupus, injuries to the hands, prolonged vibration, smoking, thyroid problems, and certain medications, such as birth control pills. Diagnosis is typically based on the symptoms.
About 4% of people have the condition. Onset of the primary form is typically between ages 15 and 30 and occurs more frequently in females. The secondary form usually affects older people. Both forms are more common in cold climates. It is named after the French physician Maurice Raynaud, who described the condition in 1862.
Signs and symptoms
Raynaud's affecting all five fingers
The condition can cause pain within the affected extremities, discoloration (paleness), and sensations of cold and/or numbness. This can often be distressing to those who are undiagnosed, and sometimes it can be obstructive. If someone with Raynaud's is placed into a cold climate, it could potentially become dangerous.
When exposed to cold temperatures, the blood supply to the fingers or toes, and in some cases the nose or earlobes, is markedly reduced; the skin turns pale or white (called pallor) and becomes cold and numb.
These events are episodic, and when the episode subsides or the area is warmed, the blood flow returns, and the skin color first turns red (rubor), and then back to normal, often accompanied by swelling, tingling, and a painful "pins and needles" sensation.
All three color changes are observed in classic Raynaud's. However, not all patients see all of the aforementioned color changes in all episodes, especially in milder cases of the condition. Symptoms are thought to be due to reactive hyperemias of the areas deprived of blood flow.
In pregnancy, this sign normally disappears owing to increased surface blood flow. Raynaud's has also occurred in breastfeeding mothers, causing nipples to turn white and become extremely painful.
Raynaud's disease, or primary Raynaud's, is diagnosed if the symptoms are idiopathic, that is, if they occur by themselves and not in association with other diseases. Some refer to primary Raynaud's disease as "being allergic to coldness". It often develops in young women in their teens and early adulthood. Primary Raynaud's is thought to be at least partly hereditary, although specific genes have not yet been identified.
Smoking increases frequency and intensity of attacks, and a hormonal component exists. Caffeine, estrogen, and nonselective beta-blockers are often listed as aggravating factors, but evidence that they should be avoided is not solid. People with the condition are more likely to have migraines and angina.
Raynaud's phenomenon, or secondary Raynaud's, occurs secondary to a wide variety of other conditions.
Erythromelalgia (clinically presenting as the opposite of Raynaud's, with hot and warm extremities) often co-exists in patients with Raynaud's)
Raynaud's can herald these diseases by periods of more than 20 years in some cases, making it effectively the first presenting symptom. This may be the case in the CREST syndrome, of which Raynaud's is a part.
Patients with secondary Raynaud's can also have symptoms related to their underlying diseases. Raynaud's phenomenon is the initial symptom that presents for 70% of patients with scleroderma, a skin and joint disease.
When Raynaud's phenomenon is limited to one hand or one foot, it is referred to as unilateral Raynaud's. This is an uncommon form, and it is always secondary to local or regional vascular disease. It commonly progresses within several years to affect other limbs as the vascular disease progresses.
Heat signatures of a Raynaud's hand (top) and a healthy hand (bottom): Red indicates warm areas whilst green indicates cool areas. (Image taken with a thermographic camera)
Consensus diagnostic criteria
Distinguishing Raynaud's disease (primary Raynaud's) from phenomenon (secondary Raynaud's) is important. Looking for signs of arthritis or vasculitis, as well as a number of laboratory tests, may separate them. If suspected to be secondary to systemic sclerosis, one tool which may help aid in the prediction of systemic sclerosis is thermography.
A careful medical history will often reveal whether the condition is primary or secondary. Once this has been established, an examination is largely to identify or exclude possible secondary causes.
Digital artery pressures are measured in the arteries of the fingers before and after the hands have been cooled. A decrease of at least 15 mmHg is diagnostic (positive).
To aid in the diagnosis of Raynaud's phenomenon, multiple sets of diagnostic criteria have been proposed. Table 1 below provides a summary of these various diagnostic criteria.
Recently, International Consensus Criteria were developed for the diagnosis of primary Raynaud's phenomenon by a panel of experts in the fields of rheumatology and dermatology.
Secondary Raynaud's is managed primarily by treating the underlying cause, and as primary Raynaud's, avoiding triggers, such as cold, emotional and environmental stress, vibrations and repetitive motions, and avoiding smoking (including passive smoking) and sympathomimetic drugs.
Medications can be helpful for moderate or severe disease.
Vasodilators - calcium channel blockers, such as the dihydropyridinesnifedipine or amlodipine, preferably slow-release preparations - are often first-line treatment. They have the common side effects of headache, flushing, and ankle edema, but these are not typically of sufficient severity to require cessation of treatment. The limited evidence available shows that calcium-channel blockers are only slightly effective in reducing how often the attacks happen. Although, other studies also reveal that CCBs may be effective at decreasing severity of attacks, pain and disability associated with Raynaud's phenomenon. People whose disease is secondary to erythromelalgia often cannot use vasodilators for therapy, as they trigger 'flares' causing the extremities to become burning red due to too much blood supply.
People with severe disease prone to ulceration or large artery thrombotic events may be prescribed aspirin.
PDE5 inhibitors are used off-label to treat severe ischemia and ulcers in fingers and toes for people with secondary Raynaud's phenomenon; as of 2016, their role more generally in Raynaud's was not clear.
In severe cases, an endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy procedure can be performed. Here, the nerves that signal the blood vessels of the fingertips to constrict are surgically cut. Microvascular surgery of the affected areas is another possible therapy, but this procedure should be considered as a last resort.
A more recent treatment for severe Raynaud's is the use of botulinum toxin. The 2009 article studied 19 patients ranging in age from 15 to 72 years with severe Raynaud's phenomenon of which 16 patients (84%) reported pain reduction at rest; 13 patients reported immediate pain relief, three more had gradual pain reduction over 1-2 months. All 13 patients with chronic finger ulcers healed within 60 days. Only 21% of the patients required repeated injections. A 2007 article describes similar improvement in a series of 11 patients. All patients had significant relief of pain.
The prognosis of primary Raynaud syndrome is often very favorable, with no mortality and little morbidity. However, a minority develops gangrene. The prognosis of secondary Raynaud is dependent on the underlying disease, and how effective blood flow-restoring maneuvers are.
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