Raynaud’s disease can be a symptom of various underlying medical conditions. In such cases, it is called secondary Raynaud’s.
Otherwise healthy people can also experience Raynaud’s syndrome. This form is called primary Raynaud’s, and while it is more common, doctors aren’t entirely sure of its cause. Stress and cooler temperatures have been identified as risk factors for the phenomenon.
As fall and winter approach, you may want to be on the lookout for this rare disorder. Fortunately, there are natural ways to help limit the discomfort of flare-ups.
Raynaud’s Phenomenon Symptoms
Although Raynaud’s phenomenon can affect various parts of the body, it most commonly develops in the fingers and toes.
Blood vessels in these areas will temporarily constrict, or spasm, in response to cold, stress, or an emotional event. The skin then changes color as blood flow is disrupted. When the vessels reopen, skin often flushes red.
Symptoms can differ between people, but are likely to include one or more of the following:
- Discoloration of the fingers or toes (may turn pale, white, or even blue when exposed to the cold or stressful situations)
- Skin that feels cold to the touch
- Lost sensation in affected areas
- Swelling and/or pain in hands when warmed
- Sores on finger pads (serious cases)
- Gangrene in fingers leading to infection (rare)
Individual variances also occur within the different types of Raynaud’s. Some people with primary Raynaud’s disease may feel a temperature drop in the affected region, but no pain. Pain may occur for about 15 minutes as blood begins to flow back into the region and it warms.
Those with secondary Raynaud’s are more likely to experience severe pain, numbness, or tingling in their fingers and toes.
Raynaud’s Phenomenon Causes
Raynaud’s is referred to as a phenomenon because its cause remains rather unclear. Primary Raynaud’s causes are difficult to pinpoint, while secondary Raynaud’s is triggered by an underlying condition.
Several autoimmune and connective tissue diseases have a common association with secondary Raynaud’s disease. They include:
- CREST syndrome
- Buerger’s disease
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Occlusive vascular disease, like atherosclerosis
- Blood disorders
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Thyroid disorders
Doctors don’t fully understand where the primary form of Raynaud’s comes from. However, risk factors may include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Cold temperatures
- Emotional stress
- Working with hand tools that vibrate
- Working at a computer/carpal tunnel syndrome
- Injury near the affected area
Primary Raynaud’s is considered less severe and generally affects young adults. Most cases are seen in people under age 30. Secondary Raynaud’s generally affects older adults, commonly setting in in their 30s or 40s.
Climate also seems to play a role in the risk for Raynaud’s syndrome. Those living in colder climates are more likely to have the condition than their counterparts in warmer regions.
Raynaud’s also appears to be more prevalent in women than in men.
Raynaud’s Phenomenon Treatment
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Raynaud’s disease. Finding ways to control and treat flare-ups is most often recommended.
Symptom management can be rather simple, especially in mild cases. Wearing gloves or thicker socks may suffice. If symptoms arise in even moderately cool temperatures, wearing a light pair of gloves may help. It may even be helpful to layer gloves and socks, removing and adding them when necessary.
More serious cases could require medications, injections, or surgery.
There are various forms of medications used to treat recurring instances of intense vasospasms. These drugs generally work to relax and dilate blood vessels.
- Blood pressure medications: Taken seasonally in those without high blood pressure to reduce constriction in blood vessels. Talk to your doctor before taking any medication or supplements.
- Topical nitroglycerin ointments: Can be applied to the affected area to help relieve symptoms by improving blood flow.
- Dihydropyridine calcium-channel blockers: May help relax smaller blood vessels in the hands and feet.
- Vasodilators: Medications that relax and dilate veins. “Viagra” and “Prozac” are vasodilators, as are calcium-channel blockers.
Injecting local anesthetics or “Botox” into the area may help block nerve fibers from causing constriction. It may not be an effective treatment for everyone. It’s also worth noting that the effects are short-term and continued injections will be required.
A sympathectomy is a form of nerve surgery that may reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups or attacks. The surgery involves making small incisions to strip nerves away from blood vessels. Theoretically, this should ease blood vessel constriction; however, the procedure is not always successful.
Alternative Remedies for Raynaud’s Phenomenon
There are natural, alternative ways to manage your Raynaud’s symptoms.
If your Raynaud’s is stress-related, finding ways to reduce or manage stress may lead to reduced frequency and intensity of flare-ups.
You may find the following activities and lifestyle measures helpful:
- Aerobic exercise (to relieve stress and encourage better circulation)
- Tai chi
- Mindfulness meditation
- Getting better quality sleep
- Transcendental mediation
- Deep breathing
You may also notice a difference in symptoms by including foods that promote vasodilation in your diet. These foods generally boost nitric oxide (NO) production:
- Beets and beetroot juice
- Leafy greens
- Dark chocolate
- Nuts and seeds
Diets high in these foods typically lead to lower blood pressure and improved blood flow. Regularly consuming such healthful foods may play a role in managing Raynaud’s symptoms.
Including a protein supplement may help boost NO as well. The supplements are rich in nitric oxide precursors that can promote better blood flow.
There are also specific products to improve nitric oxide. “Neo40,” for example, is a daily herbal supplement used to help the body naturally increase NO levels. It contains a blend of beetroot, hawthorn berry extract, and NO precursor L-citrulline.
It’s important to note that some NO supplements containing L-arginine are not for everyone due to their individual genetic make-up. Ask your doctor about the best L-arginine-free NO supplement for your needs.
Other potentially effective alternative treatments for Raynaud’s disease include:
- Fish oil: Fish oil supplementation may improve tolerance to cold.
- Gingko: Gingko supplements may help lower the number of Raynaud’s attacks.
- Acupuncture: Research suggests that acupuncture can improve blood flow, which may make it helpful to relieve or prevent attacks.
Living with Raynaud’s Phenomenon
There are a number of things you can do to help reduce the severity and duration or attacks. They include:
- Not smoking
- Increasing activity
- Controlling stress
- Avoiding extreme temperatures (i.e. the frozen food section of a grocery store) or going from a very hot environment to a cold one, when possible
- Keeping warm with gloves, socks, hats, scarfs, etc.
- Wearing finger guards if you have sores
- Avoiding trauma or hand vibrations (tools, typing, playing instruments)
When an attack does hit, try:
- Moving inside to a warmer space
- Wiggling fingers and toes
- Placing hands under armpits
- Making wide circles with arms (windmills)
- Running warm—not hot—water over fingers or toes
- Massaging the affected area
In most cases, primary Raynaud’s will not progress to secondary, and symptoms will tend to be more of an inconvenience than a health concern. Find the Raynaud’s treatments that work for you to limit this condition’s effect on your life.
Article Sources (+)