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Understanding Raynaud's Disorder

A Chilling Explanation

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Updated May 22, 2014

What Is Raynaud's Disorder?

Raynaud's is a disorder that affects the blood vessels in the fingers, toes, ears, and nose. Raynaud's can exist as a primary condition or in congruence with an underlying disease, most commonly one of the connective tissue diseases such as:

Approximately 85% to 95% of patients with scleroderma and mixed connective tissue disease, plus one-third of patients with lupus, suffer with Raynaud's phenomenon.

What Happens During an Attack?

The blood vessels in the fingers and toes are most commonly affected by Raynaud's phenomenon. It is possible for the ear lobes, lips, and nose to also be affected. During "vasospastic" attacks of Raynaud's phenomenon, the blood vessels in the affected area constrict. Attacks are often triggered by exposure to cold or by emotional stress. The resulting decreased blood supply caused by the vasospasm can cause skin discoloration and intense pain.

Upon exposure to cold, the body's normal response is to slow the loss of heat and maintain core temperature. Blood vessels which control blood flow to the skin move blood from arteries near the surface to veins deep within. People suffering with Raynaud's phenomenon, however, experience sudden vasospastic attacks instead. An attack can last less than a minute or up to several hours.

How Is Raynaud's Phenomenon Classified?

Raynaud's phenomenon is divided into two classifications: primary and secondary.

  • Primary Raynaud's phenomenon, also called Raynaud's disease, is considered the more common, milder condition. There is no underlying disease associated with the primary classification. About 75% of all cases diagnosed occur in women between 15 and 40 years old.
  • Secondary Raynaud's phenomenon is less common, but is considered the more serious of the two classifications. It is associated with an underlying disease, most commonly, one of the connective tissue diseases.

Learn more in Facts About Raynaud's Phenomenon - Raynaud's Disease.

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