What Causes Raynaud's?

Raynaud's phenomenon is the result of over-sensitive blood vessels in the body's extremities. In many cases, no cause is identified, although it's sometimes linked to other health conditions.

Primary Raynaud's

The most common form of Raynaud's is primary Raynaud's phenomenon. This means the condition occurs by itself, without being associated with another health condition.

It seems that primary Raynaud's is caused by disruptions in how the nervous system controls blood vessels. Exactly what causes these disruptions is unclear.

There's some evidence that primary Raynaud's may be an inherited condition, as cases have been known to run in families.

Secondary Raynaud's

In some cases, an underlying health condition could be causing the blood vessels to overreact. This is called secondary Raynaud's.

The majority of cases of secondary Raynaud's are associated with autoimmune conditions, which cause the immune system to attack healthy tissue.

Autoimmune conditions known to be associated with secondary Raynaud's include:

  • scleroderma – a condition that causes hardening and thickening of the skin
  • rheumatoid arthritis – which causes joint pain and swelling
  • Sjogren's syndrome – where the immune system attacks the body's sweat and tear glands
  • lupus – which causes tiredness, joint pain and skin rashes

Why do people get Raynaud's?

The cause of the condition is still unknown and we're still not sure why some people get Raynaud's, while others don't. What we do know is that the attacks themselves can be triggered by a change in temperature, emotional changes, stress, hormones or sometimes can be caused by using vibrating tools.

Raynaud's cannot be passed from one person to another and is not a contagious condition.

Who is likely to get Raynaud's?

Primary Raynaud's is more common in young women and girls, but both forms of the condition can affect men and women, or children, of any age. Many people with Raynaud's have never seen a doctor about it. If you or someone you know suffers from cold hands or feet regularly, it is always worth getting it checked out. There are excellent Raynaud's phenomenon treatments that can relieve the symptoms, and conditions causing secondary Raynaud's may need to be excluded.

Around 1 in 10 people with primary Raynaud's go on to develop an autoimmune condition.

Tonia Moore, Chief Vascular Technician talks about Raynaud's with SRUK

Other causes of Secondary Raynaud's may include:

Diseases of the arteries. Raynaud's phenomenon can be associated with various diseases that affect arteries, such as the buildup of plaques in blood vessels that feed the heart (atherosclerosis) or a disorder in which the blood vessels of the hands and feet become inflamed (Buerger's disease). A type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries of the lungs (primary pulmonary hypertension) can be linked to Raynaud's.

Carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition involves pressure on a major nerve to your hand (median nerve) producing numbness and pain in the affected hand. The hand may become more susceptible to cold temperatures and episodes of Raynaud's.

Repetitive action or vibration. Typing, playing piano or doing similar movements for long periods and operating vibrating tools, such as jackhammers, can increase your risk of developing Raynaud's.

Smoking. Smoking constricts blood vessels and is a potential cause of Raynaud's.

Injuries. Injuries to the hands or feet, such as wrist fracture, surgery or frostbite, can lead to Raynaud's phenomenon.

Certain medications. Some drugs — including beta blockers, which are used to treat high blood pressure; migraine medications that contain ergotamine or sumatriptan; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medications; certain chemotherapy agents; and drugs that cause blood vessels to narrow, such as some over-the-counter cold medications — have been linked to Raynaud's.

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