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Raynaud's disease
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Raynaud's disease

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HEART & BLOOD

Cardiovascular System

Raynaud's is a condition that causes some areas of your body - such as your fingers, toes, tip of your nose and your ears - to feel numb and cool in response to cold temperatures or stress. It's a disorder of the blood vessels that supply blood to your skin. During a Raynaud's attack, these arteries narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas.

You can have Raynaud's without any underlying disease associated with it, in which case it's called Raynaud's disease or primary Raynaud's. Or it can be part of another disease, in which case doctors may refer to it as Raynaud's phenomenon or secondary Raynaud's.

Women are more likely than men are to have the disorder. It's more common in people who live in colder climates.

Risk factors

Primary Raynaud's mainly affects women. Although anyone can develop the condition, women between the ages of 15 and 40 are most often affected. The disorder is also more common in people who live in colder climates.

Risk factors for secondary Raynaud's include associated diseases, such as scleroderma and lupus, and smoking.

People in certain occupations, such as workers who operate tools that vibrate, also may be more vulnerable to secondary Raynaud's.

Screening and diagnosis

If your doctor suspects Raynaud's, he or she will ask for a detailed description of your signs and symptoms. Your doctor will also examine you to rule out other medical problems that may cause similar signs and symptoms, such as a pinched nerve. Your doctor may perform an in-office cold-simulation test. This test may involve placing your hands in cool water or exposing you to cold air, to invoke an episode of Raynaud's.

Most doctors can diagnose Raynaud's directly from a description of your signs and symptoms. But it may be more difficult for them to identify whether you have Raynaud's alone or whether another disease, or some aspect of your lifestyle, is causing your symptoms.

To distinguish between primary and secondary Raynaud's, your doctor may perform an in-office test called nail fold capillaroscopy. During the test, the doctor examines your nail fold — the skin at the base of your fingernail — under a microscope. Tiny blood vessels (capillaries) near the nail fold that are enlarged or deformed may indicate an underlying disease. However, some secondary diseases can't be detected by this test.

If your doctor suspects that another condition, such as an autoimmune or connective tissue disease, underlies Raynaud's, he or she may order blood tests, such as:

  • Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) test. A positive test for the presence of these antibodies — produced by your immune system — indicates a stimulated immune system and is common in people who have connective tissue diseases or other autoimmune disorders.

  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). This blood test determines the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube. A faster than normal rate may signal an underlying inflammatory or autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are commonly associated with Raynaud's.

There's no single blood test to diagnose Raynaud's. Your doctor may order other tests, such as those that rule out diseases of the arteries, to help pinpoint a disease or condition that may be associated with Raynaud's.

Complications

If Raynaud's is severe — which is rare — blood circulation to your fingers or toes could permanently diminish, causing deformities of your fingers or toes.

If an artery to an affected area becomes blocked completely, sores (skin ulcers) or dead tissue (gangrene) may develop. Ulcers and gangrene can be difficult to treat.

See your doctor right away if you have a history of severe Raynaud's and develop an ulcer or infection in one of your affected fingers or toes.

Raynaud's disease > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 02:02 AM