Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud’s disease is a disease that affects the blood vessels of the toes, fingers, tip of nose, nipples, lips, ears when the blood vessels become narrow, and blood does not reach these areas, making them turn blue and white in color. The fingers and toes get back their natural pink color, when the blood starts flowing to those areas again. In some extreme cases, there is permanent death of tissue due to lack of blood flow in the area for a long time.

Stressful emotional situations and extreme cold temperatures trigger the disorder during which the blood vessels narrow down cutting away blood supply to the area. In stressful emotional conditions the body releases hormones that narrow the blood vessels which cut off the blood supply to the extremities causing Raynaud’s disease. In people suffering from Raynaud’s disease the narrowing of blood vessels as a result of stress or extreme cold is more than that which occurs in people without the disorder.

Raynaud’s disease can occur due to various conditions at work place. The repeated actions that can lead to Raynaud’s disease are use of tools that vibrate at work, playing the piano and typing for a long time. The chemicals that lead to this disorder are nicotine in cigarette smoke that aids in narrowing of blood vessels and exposure to vinyl chloride in plastic industry. The causes can be damage of nerves of feet and hands due to working repeatedly over them. Diseases that cause Raynaud’s disease are:

  • Scleroderma- a skin disease caused by disordered immune system.
  • Sjogren’s syndrome- a disease that causes dryness of skin and mouth.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis- a disease affecting the joints caused by disordered immune system.
  • Atherosclerosis- a condition that involves deposition of fats in the walls of the blood vessels
  • Buerger’s disease- inflammation of the blood vessels
  • Dermatomyositis- a disease that causes inflammation of muscles and skin
  • Carpal Tunnel syndrome- condition caused to the compression of the nerve that controls muscles of the wrist and palm
  • Thyroid problems
  • High Blood pressure

In all these diseases, the blood vessels narrow down resulting in lack of blood supply to the extremities. In severe cases of Raynaud’s disease, permanent death of tissue occurs due to lack of blood supply which is known as gangrene.

Raynaud’s disease may also be the result of certain medications used in treatment of cancer, high blood pressure, cold and migraine, and contraceptive pills. Frostbite and injury caused due to certain surgeries of the extremities also cause Raynaud’s disease.

Risk factors for Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud’s disease is commonly seen in women between 15 to 40 years of age, the reason being unknown .People having a family history of the disease and those who are living in colder climates are at higher risk.

People in occupations that involve repeated trauma to extremities due to use of any tool that vibrates have a high risk of developing Secondary Raynaud’s disease.

Other risk factors are diseases like Lupus and Scleroderma, exposure to chemicals like vinyl chloride in plastic industries and smoking.

Diagnosing Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud’s disease can be identified by the color change of toes and fingers from the normal healthy pink to bluish purple color on exposure to extreme cold or psychological stress.

Tests are conducted by the Rheumatologist (Doctor who treats disease of muscle, bone and joints) to diagnose Raynaud’s disease. In the test known as cold simulation test, the patient’s fingers are taped with cold sensors and then dipped in ice cold water for some time. Then the fingers are removed from the ice water and observed for color change. If the patient is having Raynaud’s disease, it will take longer time than normal for the color to change from bluish purple to healthy pink.

In a test called nail fold capillaroscopy, the finger nails are observed under a microscope after putting a drop of oil at the base of the finger nail. If there is any disorder, then the blood vessels look inflamed under the microscope.

Blood tests are also conducted to check for any conditions of inflammation.

  • A permanent cure for Raynaud’s disease is not there, but you can avoid trigger factors to a large extent. When you go out in cold weather, it is very important that you wear warm gloves, scarf, coat, hat and mittens.
  • Make sure the car is warmed when you drive out in chill weather.
  • When you have to handle cold foods from the refrigerator, do so wearing warm gloves.
  • Avoid air conditioned places and keep yourself warm by wearing protective warm clothes.
  • If you are working in industries in which you are exposed to chemicals, do wear protective gloves.
  • Use of tools that vibrate in your work place should be limited.
  • Do consult your doctor when you need to take medicines for any other illness as certain medicines can trigger
  • Raynaud’s disease due to their blood vessel constricting nature. Similarly psychological stress leads to release of hormones that constrict blood vessels leading to Raynaud’s disease.
  • Keep away from stressful situations and practice relaxation deep breathing techniques.
  • When you find that your fingers and toes have started to become cold and blue, start rubbing them, put your hands under your armpit or place your fingers in warm water. You can shake and move your hands and legs in circles. This will generate heat.
  • In severe cases, the tissue becomes dead which is also known as gangrene. In such cases, surgery involving amputation of the affected part followed by antibiotic therapy is a must.

Life with Raynaud’s disease can be easy if you know how to avoid the trigger factors. By taking all the precautionary measures, keeping stress at bay, and following the doctor’s advice, you can lead a normal healthy life.