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Definition of Raynaud's phenomenon

  • Medical Author:
    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.

Raynaud's phenomenon: A condition resulting in discoloration of fingers and/or toes when a person is exposed to changes in temperature (cold or hot) or emotional events.

The skin discoloration occurs because an abnormal spasm of the blood vessels causes a diminished blood supply. Initially, the digits involved turn white because of diminished blood supply, then turn blue because of prolonged lack of oxygen and finally, the blood vessels reopen, causing a local "flushing" phenomenon, which turns the digits red. This three-phase color sequence (white to blue to red), most often upon exposure to cold temperature, is characteristic of Raynaud's phenomenon.

Picture of Raynaud's phenomenon

Raynaud's phenomenon occurs with a number of conditions including rheumatic diseases (scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus), hormone imbalance (hypothyroidism and carcinoid), trauma (frostbite, vibrating tools), medications (propranolol/INDERAL, estrogens, nicotine, bleomycin) and, uncommonly, cancer.

The phenomenon is named for the French physician Maurice Raynaud (1834-1881).

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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