What is Raynaud’s disease?
Raynaud’s disease is a condition where spasm of the blood vessels occur thereby restricting blood flow to certain parts of the body, especially to the toes and fingers. The affected fingers and toes become discolored due to poor blood supply along with increased brittleness of the nails.
The most common precipitating factors of Raynaud’s disease includes exposure to cold and stress. Young women are at an increased risk of suffering from Raynaud’s disease. Treatment options include use of gloves, intake of certain drugs like calcium channel blockers, alpha blockers and surgery.
Difference with Phenomenon and Syndrome
Sometimes the words Raynaud’s phenomenon or syndrome is also used and there is a difference between these conditions and Raynaud’s disease. Raynaud’s phenomenon is a medical condition which includes both the Raynaud’s disease where the cause is not known and Raynaud’s syndrome. In Raynaud’s syndrome there is some underlying disease of the connective tissue like systemic lupus erythematosus is responsible for spasm of the supplying arteries.
Raynaud’s Disease Symptoms
The principal symptom of Raynaud’s disease is abnormally cold fingers and toes. The severity of the symptoms usually depends upon the duration and severity of spasm of the vessels. Apart from having cold fingers or toes, the color of the affected fingers or toes change in a typical sequence. During attack of Raynaud’s disease the affected fingers and toes at first become white followed by a bluish discoloration.
Other symptoms that accompany the discoloration includes a sensation of tingling, numbness and decreased sensitivity to touch. After relief of stress or locally warming the affected fingers or toes, the patient feels a typical pricking sensation over the affected fingers and the color gradually becomes red with a throbbing sensation.
Usually attacks of vasospasm in Raynaud’s disease occurs in one or two fingers or toes only and every time the same set of fingers or toes are not affected. Other than these terminal digits Raynaud’s disease also affects other body parts like the tips of the nose, ear lobes or even nipples. Typically the attacks last for minutes to hours.
People suffering from Raynaud’s syndrome may have symptoms of underlying secondary diseases. Severe degree of Raynaud’s disease may lead to complete stoppage of blood supply to the digits resulting in permanent deformity and ulceration of the overlying skin. Sometimes gangrene of the fingers or toes may occur.
Causes of Raynaud’s Disease
The exact cause of Raynaud’s disease is not known. During stressful periods and in extreme cold temperatures, the body tries to preserve the core body temperature by reducing blood supply to the terminal digits through constriction of the blood vessels. Repeated attacks of Raynaud’s disease may lead to thickening of the small arteries supplying the digits thereby further limiting the blood supply.
Unlike primary Raynaud’s disease where the underlying cause of vasospasm is not known, in secondary diseases (Raynaud’s syndrome) which leads to symptoms similar to those of Raynaud’s disease may occur due to a number of underlying diseases. These conditions include scleroderma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, smoking, injury due to trauma or excessive and prolonged use of vibratory tools.
Treatment of Raynaud’s Disease
Raynaud’s disease is usually a chronic condition and treatment focuses on symptomatic relief and avoiding attacks of vasospasm. Attacks are prevented by avoiding stress and keeping the fingers and toes warm by using gloves or socks. Other treatment options are intake of drugs like calcium channel blockers, alpha blockers and vasodilators. Surgery to cut the nerves that constrict the blood vessels of the digits or injection of chemicals to destroy the nerves and in severe cases amputation of the digits may be required.