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Raynaud's Disease: What is it and how is it treated?

written by: bjlbyron • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 9/10/2010

About 5% of all Americans have Raynaud's disease. Symptoms vary widely in individuals as some are only mildly affected while others are severely debilitated. This article describes the two types of Raynaud's disease as well as the various symptoms that accompany both types and their treatments.

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    What is Raynaud's Disease?

    Raynaud's disease, also known as Raynaud's phenomenon or Raynaud's syndrome, is a relatively rare condition in which blood arteries become significantly constricted. Such constriction prevents blood from reaching the skin's surface, which usually results in the skin near the constricted arteries turning blue and/or white. Prickly tingling or soreness then is felt upon return of blood flow through the arteries. In the worst cases, blood flow stoppage is so severe and prolonged that sores form on the skin or, worse, skin tissue dies. While the body parts that are most likely to be affected are the fingers and toes, Raynaud's disease sometimes strikes the ear, nose, lips and nipples. For most of those who are inflicted with this disease, symptoms come and go.

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    Who is at Risk of Developing Raynaud's Disease?

    There are two types of Raynaud's disease: primary and secondary. Primary Raynaud's disease typically arises between age 15 to 30 and is more likely to affect women than men. Further, while people all over the world are susceptible to developing primary Raynaud's disease, those who live in cold climates are particularly more likely to suffer from this condition than are those who live in warmer areas. Family history is also a factor as those who have close relatives who are/were inflicted with Raynaud's are more likely to suffer from the disease than are those who do not. This suggests that primary Raynaud's diease is a genetic disorder, but this remains unconfirmed.

    Secondary Raynaud's disease, which often is more severe than is primary, typically arises in individuals age 30 and older and is brought on by: (1) certain other disease and conditions, such as other diseases of the arteries, for example; (2) exposure to hazardous chemicals, and in particular, vinyl chloride; (3) smoking; (4) certain medicines, including some cancer, migraine, blood pressure and cold and allergy medicines; and (5) cold temperatures.

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    How is Raynaud's Disease Treated?

    No cure exists for either primary or secondary Raynaud's disease, but certain treatments can reduce severity of symptoms and even onset of symptoms. For both primary and secondary Raynaud's disease, effective treatments include making adjustments to lifestyle activities. Avoiding certain triggers, such as cold temperatures, mental stress, hazardous chemicals and certain medicines, can help avoid onset of symptoms or reduce their severity.

    Secondary Raynaud's disease often is treated with drugs, and in rare cases and especially in those rare cases when gangrene (tissue death) is experienced, surgery is elected. Unfortunately, even when surgery is opted for, symptoms often reappear in many individuals in little as 2-3 years following surgery.

    If you suspect that you may have Raynaud's disease, you should consult your family doctor. If he/she informs you that you in fact have this condition, do not be afraid to ask "What is Raynaud's disease?". The more you know, the better able you will be to help yourself optimize your health.

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    References

    National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, What is Raynaud's, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/raynaud/ray_what.html

    Mayo Clinic, Raynaud's Disease: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/raynauds-disease/DS00433