Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Do you suffer with cold, numb and painful fingers and toes as soon as the weather turns cold? If so, you could have something called Raynaud’s!  Read this article to find out more…

According to Frowen et al (2010), Raynaud’s Phenomenon is a broad term generally used to describe any vasospasm caused by cold weather.

It is subdivided into two conditions, which are outlined below:

⦁ Raynaud’s Disease
This condition, first described by Maurice Raynaud in 1862, affects approximately 5-10% of the population and is most common in women around the ages of 20-40.

⦁ Raynaud’s Syndrome
This generally comes about secondary to another condition or disorder, the most common of which include, lupus, systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), rheumatoid arthritis and obstructive vascular disease. I have included a more extensive list below.

Both of these conditions tend to present the same way. Once the fingers or toes are exposed to the cold, they go into vasospasm. What this means is that they turn white and feel numb, and movement of them becomes restricted and difficult.

In some cases, it can be quite painful as the fingers and toes progressively turn red and start to sting painfully – this is a type of reactive hypothermia.

Treatment generally involves informing the patient around self-management – wearing gloves and thick socks once the weather turns cold – and trying to avoid extreme cold. In severe cases, vasodilators (medications) can be prescribed.


These are not to be confused with Raynaud’s.

Although chilblains do occur for the same reason as Raynaud’s (cold weather leading to vasospasm) and while they can go hand-in-hand with Raynaud’s, it is important to remember that not everyone who has Raynaud’s gets chilblains and vice versa.

Chilblains generally affects the younger and older population, with the middle-aged population less affected. Chilblains are little lesions, about 2cm wide that usually form on the fingers or toes following exposure to cold weather. They can be itchy and painful and are usually discoloured, swollen and can last a few days or weeks.

The skin can wrinkle and take on a shiny appearance as it heals. If the skin breaks down, the healing time is delayed. Treatment for chilblains is similar to Raynaud’s – advice regarding gloves and thick socks – but can also include applying creams to the affected areas, generally something cooling. There are some studies to support acupuncture for the treatment of chilblains and it has been suggested that therapies such as ultrasound and low-level laser therapy can have an effect, but their efficacy is unclear.

Frowen et al’s (2010) list of some of the disorders associated with Raynaud’s Syndrome:
⦁ Systemic sclerosis
⦁ Lupus
⦁ Rheumatoid arthritis

⦁ Connective tissue disease (mixed)
⦁ Polymyositis/dermatomyositis
⦁ Sjorgen’s syndrome
⦁ Cryoglobulinaemias
⦁ Drug induced: anti-migraine compounds, cytotoxic drugs, beta-blockers
⦁ Occupation-related: vibration exposure, cold injury (frozen-food packers), polyvinyl chloride exposure
⦁ Obstructive vascular disease: atherosclerosis, microemboli, thromboangiitis obliterans, thoracic outlet syndrome

Frowen, P., O’Donnell, M., Lorimer, D.L. & Burrow, G. (2010) Neale’s Disorders of the Foot. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

This article was intended as an information piece and should not be taken as medical advice. If you or someone you know suspects that they have a condition, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Huddersfield Times

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