Raynaud’s syndrome, also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, is a rare condition that restricts the blood supply to the fingers and sometimes the toes, causing them to temporarily turn white or blue.
Named after the doctor Auguste Gabriel Maurice Raynaud, who first described it in his doctoral thesis in 1862, this rare condition can be described as an overreaction to stimuli such as cold or stress. In the former case, the body tries to conserve heat by slowing the flow of blood to the most distant places like the fingers. To do this, the small arteries that carry blood to these points narrow, causing the extremities to temporarily turn white and then blue due to the persistent lack of oxygen in the affected area.
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Raynaud’s phenomenon usually lasts about 15 minutes, but can last for several hours. The arteries then relax and the blood returns to the affected person’s extremities. Pain is sometimes felt during these seizures, but usually there is just a tingling sensation in the affected area, after which the fingers turn bright red before the gong returns to its normal color.
Doctors don’t fully understand why some people’s bodies overreact to cold and stress, and there is no known cure for this rare condition. It is believed that around 4% of people experience Raynaud’s phenomenon, but the severity of the attacks varies. In some cases, the contrast between normal fingers and those with restricted blood flow is almost disturbing.
Raynaud’s syndrome does not usually affect people’s quality of life, but in very rare, extreme cases, the decreased blood flow is severe enough to cause tissue damage, such as skin ulcers or even dead tissue, which requires that part of the body be removed.
In certain sufferers, even mild stimuli such as air conditioning or touching cold surfaces can trigger attacks with Raynaud’s syndrome.