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Raynaud's disease is a disorder of blood vessels that causes abnormal narrowing of these vessels when a person is cold or in the state of stress.

The process of narrowing of blood vessels is called vasospasm. Vasospasm usually occurs in smaller arteries resulting in insufficient blood supply to specific areas of your body, especially hands and feet. It is a rare disorder and women are more likely than men to develop this condition.

Types of Raynaud's disease

Raynaud's disease is classified into 2 main categories.

  • Primary Raynaud's - This is the most common type and is also called Raynaud's disease. In this type, vasospasm occurs without any cause.
  • Secondary Raynaud's - This type is also called Raynaud's phenomenon. It occurs due to some underlying condition such as carpal tunnel syndrome, Buerger's disease, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, smoking, injuries, certain medications, etc.

Symptoms of Raynaud's

Signs and symptoms of Raynaud's disease depend on the severity, frequency, and duration of the vessel spasm. Common signs and symptoms of the disease include:

  • Cold hands or cold feet
  • Change in color of the skin in response to temperature change
  • Numbness, stinging sensation, or tingling in the affected area - usually occurs upon warming or relief from stress

When to see a doctor?

It is a good idea to pay a visit to your doctor as soon as you notice any skin changes with temperature or stress. The doctor will find out if it is really Raynaud's or any other condition that is affecting your hands. A test called nail fold capillaroscopy is performed to diagnose this disorder. This test does not confirm the diagnosis but it does help in reaching the correct diagnosis. Detailed medical history and complete physical examination are also performed in order to diagnose the disease. Besides that, some other tests that may also be performed. These include:

  • Complete blood count - CBC
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate - ESR
  • Hb electrophoresis - Depending upon patient's condition
  • Anti-nuclear antibody test

Treatment and Prevention of Raynaud's disease

As the exact cause of Raynaud's disease is unknown, the goal of the treatment is to prevent future attacks and decrease the severity of the attacks. In case of secondary Raynaud's the goal is to treat the underlying condition. Certain medications can be used to dilate the blood vessels and prevent vasospasm. Some common drugs used in the case of Raynaud's disease include nifedipine and losartan. Antidepressants such as fluoxetine may help relieve the symptoms.

Some severe cases that are refractory to the medical treatment need nerve surgery.

What other conditions may cause cold hands?

It is normal to have cold hands when you are in a cold environment. However, some people may abnormally have cold hands despite normal temperature. Not only Raynaud's, but some other conditions are also known to cause cold hands. Some most common conditions include:

  • Bad circulation - some families have congenital poor blood circulation which causes hands and feet to become too cold
  • Anemia - remarkable decrease of hemoglobin in the blood can cause bad circulation resulting in cold extremities (arms and legs)
  • Diabetes - long-standing diabetes causes peripheral neuropathy which can cause cold hands.
  • Some other conditions like frostbite, systemic lupus erythematosus, and scleroderma can also present as cold hands.

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