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Raynaud Syndrome

Raynaud syndrome, also known as Raynaud's phenomenon or Raynaud's disease, is a medical condition characterised by spasms of small arteries, leading to episodes of reduced blood flow to the end arterioles. This condition predominantly affects the fingers and toes, although in rare cases, it can also impact the nose, ears, nipples, or lips. The syndrome is named after the French physician Maurice Raynaud, who first described it in 1862.

The hand of a person with Raynaud syndrome during an attack
The hand of a person with Raynaud syndrome during an attack.

Signs and Symptoms

Raynaud syndrome manifests through localised pain, discolouration, and sensations of cold or numbness. Typical episodes begin with the affected area turning white (pallor) due to reduced blood flow, followed by a blue tint as oxygen levels drop. As the episode subsides and blood flow returns, the area turns red (rubor) and can become swollen, tingling, and painful.

Raynaud's affecting all five fingers
Raynaud's affecting all five fingers.
Bluish coloration
Bluish coloration.

In some cases, Raynaud syndrome can affect breastfeeding mothers, causing the nipples to turn white and painful, which may complicate breastfeeding.

Nipple blanching, or vasospasm of the nipple, can cause pain and difficulty breastfeeding
Nipple blanching, or vasospasm of the nipple, can cause pain and difficulty breastfeeding.


Primary Raynaud's

Primary Raynaud’s, also referred to as Raynaud's disease, occurs idiopathically, meaning it happens without association with other diseases. It primarily affects young women and is thought to have a hereditary component. Smoking, caffeine, and hormonal factors can exacerbate the condition.

Secondary Raynaud's

Secondary Raynaud’s, or Raynaud's phenomenon, occurs due to other underlying conditions. These include connective tissue disorders like scleroderma and lupus, obstructive disorders such as atherosclerosis, and exposure to certain drugs and occupational hazards. Secondary Raynaud’s can also be induced by trauma, hypothyroidism, and magnesium deficiency, among others. It often presents with more severe symptoms and complications compared to primary Raynaud's.


Raynaud syndrome involves three main changes: reduced blood flow, blood vessel constriction, and neurogenic inflammation. These episodes can be triggered by cold temperatures or emotional stress, initiating an overactive sympathetic nervous system response. In primary Raynaud's, increased sensitivity to cold results in vasoconstriction, while in secondary Raynaud's, blood vessel function is disrupted, leading to ischaemia and tissue damage.

Underlying mechanism
Underlying mechanism.


Diagnosis is primarily based on clinical symptoms, distinguishing primary from secondary Raynaud's. Diagnostic methods include nail fold capillaroscopy, thermography, and various blood tests to identify underlying causes.

Thermogram depicting a Raynaud's hand (top) and a healthy hand (bottom): Red indicates warm areas whilst green indicates cool areas
Thermogram depicting a Raynaud's hand (top) and a healthy hand (bottom): Red indicates warm areas whilst green indicates cool areas.
Consensus diagnostic criteria
Consensus diagnostic criteria.


Avoidance and Lifestyle Adjustments

Primary Raynaud's is managed by avoiding triggers such as cold, emotional stress, and smoking. Lifestyle adjustments are very important for mitigating symptoms.


Medications for Raynaud syndrome include vasodilators like calcium channel blockers (e.g., nifedipine), which can reduce episode frequency. Severe cases may require prostaglandins, angiotensin receptor blockers, or other vasodilatory drugs. In some instances, aspirin or alpha-adrenergic blockers like prazosin may be prescribed to prevent complications.


In severe cases, options like endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy or microvascular surgery may be considered. Botulinum toxin injections have also shown promise in reducing pain and healing ulcers in severe Raynaud's cases.

Alternative Medicine

Currently, there is insufficient evidence to support the efficacy of alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and laser therapy, in treating Raynaud syndrome.


The prognosis for primary Raynaud syndrome is generally favourable, with low morbidity and no mortality. In contrast, the prognosis for secondary Raynaud's depends on the underlying disease's progression and the effectiveness of treatment measures.

Self-assessment MCQs (single best answer)

What is Raynaud syndrome primarily characterised by?

Which areas are most commonly affected by Raynaud syndrome?

What is the initial colour change observed during a Raynaud's episode?

Who is more likely to be affected by primary Raynaud's?

Which condition is NOT typically associated with secondary Raynaud's?

What triggers Raynaud's episodes?

Which diagnostic method is used to distinguish primary from secondary Raynaud's?

Which medication is commonly prescribed to manage Raynaud syndrome by reducing episode frequency?

What is a severe surgical option for treating Raynaud's?

What is the prognosis for primary Raynaud syndrome?


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