Everything you need to know about living well with Raynaud’s disease
You may be wondering, what is Raynaud’s? Below, we explore what causes Raynaud’s, what the symptoms of Raynaud’s are, and what treatments for Raynaud’s are available. Remember, you are not alone, and there are many sources of support available to you and your family.
Any medical information provided here is for informational purposes and does not replace medical advice given to you by a medical professional. If you are concerned that you may have any of the Raynaud’s symptoms discussed below, please see your GP.
Raynaud’s syndrome or Raynaud’s phenomenon, as it is known, causes the extremities of the body to be extra sensitive to changes in temperature and stress, causing these parts to change colour such as blue or red. It’s extremely common in the UK, with over 10 million people having a Raynaud’s diagnosis. Many people live with Raynaud’s without ever seeing their doctor or receiving an official diagnosis of Raynaud’s. The symptoms of Raynaud’s vary from person to person, and some people have it mildly whilst others have it more severely. The pain symptoms of Raynaud’s can really affect daily life for some people.
Anyone of any age can get Raynaud’s, but it is common in young women and girls. Some people develop Raynaud’s for a while and then recover, whilst others may live with it constantly from when it first develops. Around 10% of the population are thought to have Raynaud’s and 90% of these have the less severe type of Raynaud’s, called ‘primary Raynaud’s’.
There are two types of Raynaud’s, classified as primary or secondary. Primary Raynaud’s has no underlying health condition and occurs as a set of Raynaud’s symptoms only. Nobody knows for sure why Raynaud’s symptoms occur, or why some people experience them and others don’t, but it’s thought to be linked with how the body’s blood vessels are controlled by the nervous system.
Everyone will experience Raynaud’s differently – many people have it and just think they have ‘poor circulation’. It is rarely a life-affecting condition but some people do find their Raynaud’s symptoms cause regular pain and discomfort, making it severe for them. Raynaud’s symptoms may also be caused by other health conditions, such as scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome or lupus. If you think you may have any of the Raynaud’s symptoms listed below, you should visit your GP. They may be able to give you a proper Raynaud’s diagnosis, rule out other underlying health conditions and advise on self-care and treatments for Raynaud’s.
Symptoms of Raynaud’s occur when the person is cold or feels stressed or anxious, and affect the extremities e.g. finger tips and toes usually, but also hands, feet, ears, nose, lips, tongue and nipples. Raynaud’s symptoms may include:
• Skin colour changes to white, blue or red (or all three)
• Extremities feeling painful, numb or stiff
• Pins and needles
• Throbbing feeling
• Sensitivity to temperature changes
The colour change that often occurs with Raynaud’s is due to blood flow being restricted to the affected areas, which makes the skin turn white usually, then blue because oxygen in that area of the skin is low, then red when blood starts to flow back into the area again. The sensations (such as numbness) and pain symptoms of Raynaud’s occur due to the blood vessels contracting or being in spasm, and the lack of initial blood flow, then the rush of blood back to the area.
People with severe Raynaud’s, usually secondary Raynaud’s that is caused by another underlying condition, often experience the symptoms more intensely, for example:
• Extreme cold and heat when circulation comes and goes
• Constantly swollen hands
• Difficulty gripping or holding small items
• Extreme sensitivity to even slight temperature change i.e. moving from a warm room to one that is slightly cooler
• Ulcers due to tissue damage may develop if Raynaud’s spasms are regular
f you are concerned you may have Raynaud’s symptoms, it is advisable to visit your GP, who may be able to diagnose Raynaud’s straight away if they think you have the condition. They may recommend you have some blood tests to rule out secondary Raynaud’s – the most serious type which has underlying causes.
There are two types of Raynaud’s:
Less common, this type is caused by a health condition such as scleroderma, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. These are autoimmune diseases. Raynaud’s symptoms may be the first symptoms to occur. A person with secondary Raynaud’s is likely to have more complications which could include skin ulcers and long-term blood vessel damage.
If you think you may have Raynaud’s, you may wish to take this online test to find out if your symptoms are likely to be associated with the condition.
Raynaud’s cannot be cured, but treatments can help reduce the discomfort, pain and severity of attacks. If you have secondary Raynaud’s, you are likely to have additional treatments for the underlying condition causing your Raynaud’s symptoms. Many of the treatments for Primary Raynaud’s are self-care treatments, which we discuss below. There are many natural Raynaud’s treatments as well as some medications that may be prescribed.
The main treatments for Raynaud’s which may be recommended to you by a GP include:
• Keeping warm as much as possible i.e. wrapping up in cold weather, wearing extra pairs of gloves/socks, using heat pads, keeping your house warm
• Exercise to help circulation
• Avoiding stress or learning to de-stress using techniques like mindfulness and activities such as yoga
• Avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol as they affect circulation
• Avoiding too much caffeine
• Medication called nifedipine, which may be prescribed if your symptoms are getting worse
• Eating a healthy, balanced diet
Many people try pain relief medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen during a Raynaud’s attack, which works for some people and not others.
There is a surgical operation called cervical sympathectomy that was once used as a Raynaud’s treatment, but is rarely used now as it did not always reduce the symptoms.
For people who have severe Raynaud’s symptoms of the feet, a procedure called a lumbar sympathectomy can be carried out, which works well for some people to relieve pain.
Some people are finding relief from Botox injections, but this is an emerging area that still needs to be researched.
Acupuncture and reflexology are natural treatments that some people find helpful to reduce their symptoms. Some people swear by Epsom salt baths, lavender essential oil, and other natural products that they feel brings relief.
Everyone will respond differently to Raynaud’s treatment and different things help different people. If you have Raynaud’s and you feel your condition is getting worse, to the point where it’s really affecting your life, you may need to visit your GP to discuss this further or be referred to a rheumatologist.
Raynaud’s disease can cause symptoms of varying degrees, and everyone is affected differently. Generally, people with Raynaud’s are likely to live well, despite having to manage their symptoms. Some people are affected more severely and may have pain and difficulty doing everyday tasks.
How well you are able to live with Raynaud’s will depend upon the severity of your symptoms and how effective treatment is for you.
Many people with Raynaud’s find colder weather particularly difficult and need to wear multiple pairs of gloves and socks, thick lined boots or thermal insoles, and use portable heating devices such as hand warmers. However, some people may be sensitive to even slight temperature changes, whatever the season.
This video shows what it is like for someone living with primary Raynaud’s, and highlights how much it can affect daily life.
This video shows what it is like to live with secondary Raynaud’s as a result of scleroderma, and shows that some people with severe Raynaud’s symptoms have great difficulty doing everyday tasks such as going shopping or using money.
If Raynaud’s symptoms are making it difficult to use your hands or feet, you may wish to explore daily living aids. These are products designed to help you with mobility, such as getting around the home, getting around outside, getting ready and doing chores around the house.
At Healthcare Pro, we are experts in daily living aids. If you have Raynaud’s, you may find the following daily living aids useful.
PLEASE NOTE: our Expert Advice Service can only give advice about equipment and products which may help you to live more independently. They cannot give any advice on medications or treatments for symptoms of this condition.
There is no ‘Raynaud’s diet’ you should follow if you have the condition, but you should aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet such as The Eatwell Plan.
Some people take vitamins and minerals as supplements for Raynaud’s, but there is little evidence to suggest these have an effect. You should always check with your GP before taking Raynaud’s supplements.
Exercise helps improve circulation and reduce stress, so it’s important to exercise if you have Raynaud’s. You may wish to explore options for stress reduction such as yoga. The NHS provides more advice about how to get fit for free.
We hope the Raynaud’s explanation provided here has been helpful. Raynaud’s is really common, and not life threatening, but it can be very difficult to deal with for some people who experience lots of pain or regular attacks. Secondary Raynaud’s is rare but usually affects daily life a great deal.
Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK online community – a forum for people affected by Raynaud’s, or the associated health condition scleroderma, to share experiences
Raynaud’s Syndrome Facebook Group – a public group of people with Raynaud’s and their families to discuss treatments, symptoms and experiences
NHS Inform – Scottish website providing information on Raynaud’s
NHS – source of official medical information about causes, symptoms and treatments for Raynaud’s and related conditions
Raynaud’s Association – US charity supporting people with Raynaud’s with online information about the condition and how to live well
Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK – a charity providing support and information to the millions of people with Raynaud’s, and associated condition scleroderma, with an online community and lots of online information about living with these conditions
Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology. Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce and if you’re not an expert in the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of Raynaud’s as straightforward as possible.
– conditions where the immune system attacks the body, mistaking it for an invading virus/bacteria
– tubes in the body that carry blood around i.e. a vein, artery or capillary
– surgery that takes out some of the nervous system around the spinal cord, rarely used now for Raynaud’s
– a procedure involving injecting medication into the nerves to increase blood circulation
– an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in joints, skin, blood cells and other organs
– a calcium channel blocker medication that relaxes blood vessels and can be used to treat Raynaud’s symptoms
– a doctor specialising in conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system e.g. bones and tissues
– a rare condition that causes skin thickening problems, which can have complications affecting the organs and blood vessels
– usually part of an auto-immune condition such as lupus, but can develop on its own, causing dry eyes, dry mouth, dry skin, joint pain, muscle aches, swelling and rashes