If your fingers or toes, ears or nose sometimes become white or even blue during cold days or during some stressful situation, you might have Raynaud's phenomenon. If these symptoms occur in isolation, without signs of other associated disorders, then it is called Raynaud's disease or Primary Raynaud's. These symptoms can also appear as a part of more complex disorders, such as connective tissue diseases (systemic lupus erythematosus, sclerodermia, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome, etc.), and then it is referred to as Raynaud's phenomenon or Secondary Raynaud's.
Symptoms of Raynaud's Phenomenon
The most common complaints in patients with Raynaud's phenomenon include a sudden onset of cold and pale fingers and toes which is accompanied by pain and numbness. The affected parts may then become red or even blue and swollen. The phenomenon appears in the form of attacks that usually last several seconds to several minutes. Of course, not all patients will have all the symptoms and the symptoms vary even in the same patient from time to time.
This phenomenon is more common in females than in males, and it often starts during the second and third decade of life. It is logical that the disorder is more common in people living in cold regions.
Mechanism of Development
The exact cause of Raynaud's phenomenon is still unknown, but studies suggest that the main cause is abnormal narrowing of blood vessels (vasoconstriction) as a response to stress or cold. Namely, blood vessels respond to cold by Vasoconstriction in order to prevent a high amount of blood in the skin and consequent heat loss. The same mechanism is present during acute stress, as the blood is being redistributed to the vital organs (muscles, heart, and brain) that are necessary for fast reaction (the so-called fight-or-flight response). In persons suffering from Raynaud's disease, these mechanisms are just over-pronounced, causing critical levels of Vasoconstriction and insufficient blood supply to the affected organs.
If not associated with other diseases, episodes of Raynaud's disease leave no significant consequences. Severe cases where the blood supply to the fingers or toes is so insufficient that it can cause skin ulcers or gangrene of affected areas occur in rare instances.
If you have these or similar symptoms, please refer to your doctor in order to perform necessary testing. The diagnosis of Raynaud's disease is not hard to establish based on the patient's complaints. However, it is also necessary to perform a series of immunological tests in order to rule out the existence of associated diseases.
Medications that can be used in severe cases of Raynaud's syndrome include vasodilators - drugs that dilate the blood vessels. Among them, the most common are calcium channel blockers and nitrates, including nitroglycerin and sildenafil (Viagra). Surgical interventions are only needed in extremely severe cases of ulceration and gangrene.
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