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What is Raynaud's syndrome?

Raynaud’s syndrome can cause a person’s fingers, toes, and sometimes other body parts, to turn white or purple and feel numb when they get cold. 

This sudden discoloration is often called a “Raynaud’s attack.” It happens when the blood vessels respond to cold by spasming. These involuntary contractions block blood from traveling to the farthest reaches of the body where blood vessels are tiny, such as the fingertips. With no blood getting through, color is drained from the affected area, which can cause discomfort, numbness, and even pain.

For most people with Raynaud’s, attacks are a nuisance that they wish would go away but that doesn’t significantly impact their day-to-day life. Perhaps they have a Raynaud’s attack a few times a year, such as when they go on a skiing trip or linger outside a little too long in the wintertime. 

Unfortunately, for others, Raynaud’s can be debilitating. In these people, attacks can be triggered even in environments that aren’t particularly cold. For example, some people with severe Raynaud’s keep their thermostats set at 72, but they still need to wear gloves or heated gloves at all times indoors, even while sleeping, to avoid spasming and to keep blood flowing. 

In severe Raynaud’s, it’s important to stop the cycle of attacks or at least slow them down. Repeated attacks can cause lasting damage. Ulcers can begin to form on the fingertips, and, in rare cases, fingers can become gangrenous and need to be amputated. 

Severe Raynaud’s is typically caused by another condition, such as an autoimmune disease. In these cases, the Raynaud’s is referred to as “secondary Raynaud’s.” If a person doesn’t have another condition that is causing their Raynaud’s symptoms, they have “primary Raynaud’s.” Primary Raynaud’s is usually much milder than secondary Raynaud’s. 

There are all sorts of treatments that healthcare providers use to try to help people with Raynaud’s. Unfortunately, there’s no “tried and true” medicine that’s likely to work for everyone. Some of the medicines work for some people, and other people find that no medicines make a difference. 

This is why it’s important to consult with several healthcare providers if you are having trouble in your search for answers. Doctors have varying levels of knowledge about Raynaud’s. Having severe Raynaud’s may lead you to the offices of general practitioners, rheumatologists, dermatologists, hand specialists, vein specialists, or others.

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