Five- to ten-percent of all Americans suffer from Raynaud’s Syndrome, a disease caused by spasms in blood vessels that disrupt the flow of blood to areas of the body including fingers, toes, nose and ears. The first official diagnosis was made in 1862 by Maurice Raynaud and it is also called Raynaud’s Disease, or Raynaud’s Phenomenon or simply Raynaud’s. It can cause throbbing, tingling, discoloration or swelling to the affected areas. Vasospasm, or the sudden narrowing of an artery, may occur with Raynaud’s, restricting the flow of blood, causing discomfort. Raynaud’s Syndrome can occur with no related illnesses but can also be caused by another physical condition.
The most common symptom is a feeling of sensitivity and pain resulting from cold temperatures. In addition to the feeling of cold, the skin on affected areas of the body may turn white or blue. As the skin warms up, intense pain may occur as circulation is restored. Throbbing or tingling may also begin as the blood begins normal flow, as well as swelling. Ulcerations may appear, especially on finger and toe pads.
Causes of Primary Raynaud’s Syndrome
Primary Raynaud’s Syndrome appears when not related to other physical conditions. This can be caused by repetitive actions or vibrations, smoking because it constricts blood vessels, a family history of the disease or living in a cold climate. Women are nine times more likely to be diagnosed with Primary Raynaud’s Syndrome than men, although it does appear in men, too. It usually begins among people between fifteen and twenty-five years of age.
Conditions That Cause Secondary Raynaud’s Syndrome
Secondary Raynaud’s Syndrome is related to other physical issues, appears later in life and can be more serious. Conditions linked to Secondary Raynaud’s Syndrome include carpal tunnel disease and autoimmune conditions including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome. Connective tissue diseases, such as scleroderma can be causes, as well as arterial diseases. The arterial diseases include Buerger’s disease, atherosclerosis, or primary pulmonary hypertension.
Injuries to the hands and feet can initiate Secondary Raynaud’s Syndrome. These can include fracture, surgery or frostbite. Additionally, certain medications including ADHD drugs, chemotherapy agents and some over the counter cold medications that narrow blood vessels can contribute to the possible onset.
Reducing the frequency and severity of attacks, preventing tissue damage and treating underlying causes of Raynaud’s are all goals in treatment. The patient can help by making sure to keep hands and feet warm in cold environments, stopping smoking and avoiding medications that narrow the blood vessels.
Medications can also help. Calcium channel blockers, such as Norvasc, relax and open small blood vessels in the hands and feet. Alpha blockers, like Cardura, counteract a hormone in the body that causes blood vessels to narrow. Vasodilators can help by relaxing the blood vessels. They may also help heal skin ulcers on fingers and toes. Nitroglycerin is a vasodilator.
Beyond medications, sympathectomy surgery is a procedure designed to reduce the frequency and intensity of Raynaud’s attacks. Small incisions are made in the affected hands and feet and tiny nerves around the blood vessels are removed.
Another alternative is the injection of Botox into the nerves of the affected hands and feet. Botox injections may need to be repeated to discontinue the rate and duration of attacks.
Although Raynaud’s Syndrome is found in many Americans, it often goes undiagnosed because sufferers don’t recognize the symptoms and don’t feel they are serious enough to report to their physicians or cardiologists. It is often not disabling and may be dismissed. But it can have a big impact on quality of life and symptoms should be reported when they occur.
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