Raynaud's disease is a common disorder characterized by spasm of the arteries in the fingers and toes causing white fingers that tingle or burn and sometimes become painful upon rewarming. Symptoms of Raynaud's disease are precipitated by cold exposure and emotional stress. During an attack, fingers turn typically white--sometimes blue--and upon rewarming, become bright red. Primary Raynaud's is a condition that is benign and not associated with any other medical disorders. This condition predominantly affects women, occurring in 5 to 10 percent of healthy women in the New England area. Raynaud's disease is considered mild if it occurs only three to four times a month.Secondary Raynaud's is more serious because it is associated with other medical disorders, including rheumatic diseases, blood disorders, or sometimes as a side effect to medications. Patients with secondary Raynaud's tend to have more frequent attacks and sometimes can develop ulcerations or gangrene of the fingertips. Fortunately, these symptoms very rarely occur.
Our vascular medicine physicians in the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine are experts in assessing patients with Raynaud's disease. On the basis of history, physical examination and simple blood testing, it is usually possible to distinguish those patients who have primary benign Raynaud's from those who have the more serious form of the disease.Patients with infrequent primary Raynaud's can be treated conservatively. Approaches include wearing warm gloves in the cold and avoiding unnecessary exposure of the hands to cold water and cold objects such as refrigerators or frozen foods. All patients with Raynaud's should dress the entire body warmly in cold weather to reduce the risk of developing an attack from exposure to the cold. It is also strongly recommended that all patients with Raynaud's stop smoking, since smoking is known to aggravate blood vessel disorders.Various medications are well-tolerated and effective in reducing the frequency of Raynaud's attacks. In addition, Lahey Clinic and the Army Research Center in Natick, Mass., have recently developed a program of conditioning called “induced vasodilation”, a non-invasive and non-drug modality for reducing the frequency of attacks.Lahey's vascular medicine specialists are experts at managing the care of patients with additional Raynaud's-related medical conditions. Together with a team of vascular surgeons, hand surgeons and rheumatologists, vascular medicine specialists provide unique, multidisciplinary management of this disorder.