If you suffer from chronically cold hands and feet, the winter weather may not be your only concern. Raynaud’s phenomenon (RP) is a common, benign vascular disorder characterized by episodes of constriction of very small arteries in the toes and fingers, usually in response to cold temperatures or stress. Symptoms in the fingers and toes include unusual paleness and/or a red or bluish color to the skin.
Occasionally other parts of the body are affected including the nose, ears, and/or tongue. RP does not usually occur in association with any other underlying disorder and may also be referred to as primary Raynaud’s disease. RP most frequently affects women, especially in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. The causes of RP are unknown. Commonly, RP manifests itself when you see your fingers and toes go through a three-phase color sequence. Initially, the digit(s) involved turn white due to a diminished blood supply. They then turn blue because of prolonged lack of oxygen, and finally, the blood vessels reopen, causing a local “flushing” phenomenon, which turns the fingers and toes red. This sequence (white to blue to red), most often occurring due to exposure to cold temperatures, is characteristic of RP.
A secondary form of the disorder, known as Raynaud’s disease, affects a small number of individuals and is usually found in association with another underlying systemic disorder. The symptoms are similar to RP, however, they tend to be more severe, and in rare instances, tissues may break down to form an ulcer. Your podiatrist is an excellent source for diagnosis and treatment. People with Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s disease should take extra precautions to protect themselves from cold exposure.