Raynaud's Syndrome Signs and Symptoms

Raynaud’s syndrome is the body’s exaggerated response to extremely cold conditions. The low temperature causes the blood vessels of the fingers and toes to contract, which leads to hypoxia or decreased supply of oxygen to the affected tissues.

Which body parts are affected in Raynaud’s syndrome?

Numbness and pain are the initial signs associated with Raynaud’s syndrome. The toes and fingers are the most commonly affected parts of the body; however, the nose, lips, and ears can also be affected. Breast feeding mothers may experience the syndrome around their nipples, which may cause severe throbbing sensations.

Raynaud’s syndrome cases some areas of your body, usually your fingers and toes, to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress.
Raynaud’s syndrome cases some areas of your body, usually your fingers and toes, to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress.

What is the classical clinical presentation of Raynaud syndrome?

The sufferers of Raynaud’s syndrome can be identified by the classic triple-color change sign. The area affected by cold induced vasospastic attacks will turn white (pallor) due to ischemia, which with time changes to blue (cyanosis) as a result of deoxygenation of blood. Redness of skin (erythema) is observed once the blood circulation is back to normal. Erythema is frequently associated with a tingling sensation and painful swelling.

The lack of a definite diagnostic test makes the “triple color change” sign the basis of diagnosis. Investigators suggest that at least two color changes (white and blue) are necessary to confirm Raynaud’s syndrome.

Primary or idiopathic Raynaud’s syndrome usually resolves within a few hours. However, the secondary form of the disease can progress to a more serious condition, such as ulcers and gangrene.

What are the complications associated with Raynaud’s syndrome?

Ulcers and gangrene

In severe cases of secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon, the blood flow to the affected region may become severely diminished or blocked. This leads to atrophy of skin tissues and the formation of open sores or cutaneous ulcers, which require prompt treatment. This is because if left untreated, worsening occurs with the formation of gangrene. Severe cases may require surgery to unblock the damaged blood vessels.

Increased risk of developing Scleroderma

There is an increased risk of scleroderma in patients suffering from secondary Raynaud’s syndrome. Scleroderma means hard and thick skin. It develops due to hardening of the connective tissue, especially collagen, which ultimately hinders the functionality of organs within the body. The occlusion of blood vessels due to collagen accumulation leads to severe ischemia, which results in complications associated with scleroderma.

Some early signs of scleroderma include puffy, stiff fingers and hands, itchy skin and painful joints. Even though there is no cure for this condition, some medications can help overcome the uncomfortable symptoms.

How is Raynaud’s syndrome diagnosed?

  • Medical history – The physician takes a complete history of the patient, which includes details regarding the symptoms (onset, duration and triggers), their habits, diets, etc.
  • Capillaroscopy – This test evaluates capillaries at the base of the fingernail to gain insights regarding the structure of the blood vessels and identify any abnormality. This non-invasive technique is particularly helpful in distinguishing the secondary Raynaud’s syndrome from the primary form.
  • Pathological tests – Blood tests to determine erythrocyte sedimentation rate or identify antinuclear antibodies may be taken. These parameters can help predict signs of inflammation or autoimmune problems. Other parameters, which may help in the diagnosis, include tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), fibrinogen, endothelin-1 and platelet factor (PF-4).

How is Raynaud’s syndrome prevented?

  • Protecting the exposed body parts especially the hands and feet, from extremely cold temperature. The use of gloves and socks to cover the extremities is essential.
  • Avoiding smoking and emotional stress.
  • Avoiding frequent use of vibratory tools, such as jackhammers.
  • Indulging in physical activities, such as exercises.
  • Avoiding wounds, because the poor circulation associated with Raynaud’s syndrome makes bruises and cuts harder to heal.
  • Massaging and warming the affected area during attacks can help prevent exacerbation of symptoms.

Last Updated: Feb 27, 2019

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