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Raynaud's phenomenon

4-minute read

Key facts

  • Raynaud's phenomenon causes parts of your body to feel numb and cool.
  • About 1 in 5 females have Raynaud's phenomenon at some stage in their lives.
  • There are 2 forms of Raynaud's phenomenon: primary Raynaud's phenomenon and secondary Raynaud's phenomenon.

What is Raynaud's phenomenon?

Raynaud's phenomenon (or Raynaud's disease) is a condition that causes parts of your body to feel numb and cool. This may happen when you are cold or stressed.

Females are more commonly affected, with about 1 in 5 getting Raynaud's phenomenon at some stage in their lives. Females under the age of 25 years are more likely to get Raynaud's phenomenon. It's also more common in colder climates.

What are the symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon?

Raynaud's phenomenon causes your skin to:

  • turn white then blue
  • feel numb
  • feel cold

You are mostly likely to get Raynaud's in your:

  • fingers
  • toes
  • tip of your nose
  • lips
  • ears
  • tongue
  • nipples

Attacks can last from a few minutes to hours. They may be painful.

You may get attacks once in a while, or many times a day.

When the attack is over, blood rushes back to the area. Your affected fingers and toes will become red and warm. They may tingle and throb.

What causes Raynaud's phenomenon?

Raynaud's is caused by temporary disruption to blood flow in small blood vessels in the extremities.

There are 2 forms of Raynaud's phenomenon:

  1. primary Raynaud's phenomenon
  2. secondary Raynaud's phenomenon

Most people have primary Raynaud's phenomenon. This is often mild and does not have a clear underlying cause. It may run in your family.

Some people have secondary Raynaud's phenomenon. This is when your condition has an underlying cause such as:

When should I see my doctor?

If you get Raynaud's phenomenon, you should discuss it with your doctor.

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How is Raynaud's phenomenon diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and your health in general. They will also examine you.

If your doctor suspects an underlying cause for Raynaud's phenomenon, they may suggest further tests.

How is Raynaud's phenomenon treated?

If you have an attack, try to:

  • get warm
  • wiggle your fingers and toes
  • massage your fingers and toes

If the attack is caused by a stressful situation, try to remove yourself from the situation. If stress is a trigger for you, counselling may help.

If you have secondary Raynaud's phenomenon, treatment of your underlying disease can help.

Medicines may be recommended for people with more severe Raynaud's phenomenon.

Can Raynaud's phenomenon be prevented?

If you have primary Raynaud's phenomenon, here are some tips to help you stop having further attacks:

You should also try to dress warmly. On cold days try wearing:

  • gloves
  • chemical hand warmers
  • a scarf
  • warm socks
  • a hat to stop body heat escaping from the top of your head

Complications of Raynaud's phenomenon

Most people with primary Raynaud's phenomenon don't have any complications. But some disability may happen in 2 in 10 cases.

Resources and support

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2023


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