Diseases Home > More Details on Raynaud's Phenomenon

What Causes It?

No one knows the exact cause of Raynaud's phenomenon and why there is a sudden spasmodic contraction of the small blood vessels when exposed to cold. Finding the cause or causes of this condition continues to be an active area of Raynaud's research.

What Triggers Raynaud's Phenomenon?

For most people, an attack is usually triggered by exposure to cold or emotional stress. In general, attacks affect the fingers or toes, but may also affect the nose, lips, or ear lobes.


During an attack, the symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon are caused by reduced blood supply to the extremities.
Once the attack begins, a person may experience symptoms to the affected area that includes:
  • Coldness
  • Changes in skin color
  • Numbness
  • Throbbing
  • Tingling.
During an attack, symptoms can last from less than a minute to several hours.
The period of exposure to the cold is extremely critical, because it only takes about 20 to 30 minutes of exposure to the cold to cause potentially serious problems, such as tissue damage. This can lead to ulcers on the fingertips and, if left untreated, even gangrene. Bone damage may also ensue.

Frequency of Raynaud's Phenomenon Attacks

The frequency of attacks varies from patient to patient. Some people get attacks as often as daily or several times a week.

Making a Diagnosis

When making a Raynaud's phenomenon diagnosis, the doctor will first gather a detailed medical history, which includes asking questions about a person's:
  • General health
  • Symptoms
  • Family medical history
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Use of drugs or medications.
The doctor will also perform a complete physical exam to check for other signs of Raynaud's phenomenon and recommend certain tests.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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