Raynaud's Phenomenon (cont.)
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Raynaud's phenomenon facts
- What is Raynaud's phenomenon?
- What causes Raynaud's phenomenon?
- What conditions have been associated with Raynaud's phenomenon?
- What are Raynaud's phenomenon symptoms and signs?
- How is Raynaud's phenomenon diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for Raynaud's phenomenon?
- What is the prognosis (outlook) for Raynaud's phenomenon?
- Can Raynaud's phenomenon by prevented?
- Find a local Rheumatologist in your town
What are Raynaud's phenomenon symptoms and signs?
Symptoms of RP depend on the severity, frequency, and duration of the blood vessel spasm. Most patients with mild disease only notice skin discoloration upon cold exposure. They may also experience mild tingling and numbness of the involved digit(s) that will disappear once the color returns to normal. When the blood-vessel spasms become more sustained, the sensory nerves become irritated by the lack of oxygen and can cause pain in the involved digit(s). Rarely, poor oxygen supply to the tissue can cause the tips of the digits to ulcerate. Ulcerated digits can become infected. With continued lack of oxygen, gangrene of the digits can occur.
Less common areas of the body that can be affected by RP include the nose, ears, and tongue. While these areas rarely develop ulcers, they can be associated with a sensation of numbness and pain.
Patients with secondary RP can also have symptoms related to their underlying diseases. RP is the initial symptom of 70% of patients with scleroderma, a skin and joint disease. Other rheumatic diseases frequently associated with RP include systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjögren's syndrome.
How is Raynaud's phenomenon diagnosed?
In patients with the characteristic sequence of skin-color changes of the digits upon cold exposure, diagnosing RP is not difficult. Sometimes, certain patterns in the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) adjacent to the fingernails of patients with RP can be seen using a magnifying viewing instrument. Abnormal nail-fold capillary patterns can suggest the possibility of an associated rheumatic condition. There is, however, no single blood test to help the doctor to confirm the diagnosis. The doctor can order certain blood tests (for example, sedimentation rate, rheumatoid factor, antinuclear antibody, thyroid hormone levels, and protein levels) to exclude associated rheumatic diseases and thyroid disorders. The doctor can also perform certain maneuvers with the patient's extremities to exclude pinched blood vessels that can produce symptoms that mimic RP, such as in thoracic outlet syndrome.
Typically, patients with Raynaud's phenomenon that is a manifestation of a rheumatic disease have elevated blood sedimentation rates and antinuclear antibodies. Furthermore, capillary nail-fold abnormalities can frequently be found as described above.
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