Ask The Pharmacist: Raynaud’s Disease

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Michael White; Dept. Of Pharmacy Practice, Uconn School Of Pharmacy


Approximately 1 in 10 people in the country have Raynaud’s Phenomenon, a disorder that affects the fingers and toes when exposed to the cold.

  1. What Raynaud’s Phenomenon and who is impacted?

In Raynaud’s Phenomenon, when your are exposed to cold, like in the winter, when the car air conditioner is blowing directly on the hands or feet, or when you go into the freezer to take out the frozen peas; the tiny blood vessels constrict and shut off blood flow to the tips of the fingers or toes. The fingers turn a bright white color and then turn bluish or purplish in color after the blood starts flowing again. This can cause numbness when the blood flow is reduced and if it is severe enough, you can end up with ulcers on the digits or even loss of fingers and toes. Many people out in the viewing audience have mild Raynaud’s Phenomenon and don’t even know it so we are discussing it today.


  1. Who is most at risk of Raynaud’s Phenomenon and when does it usually occur?

Up to 10% of people will develop Raynaud’s Phenomenon and ¾ of them are women. Women usually start exhibiting symptoms in their late teens through their thirties and in many cases, people will have a collagen vascular disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or Lupus.


  1. If a viewer suspects they have Raynaud’s Phenomenon, what should they do?

Only your doctor can diagnose Raynaud’s Phenomenon but without you letting them know you feel that your fingers or toes are abnormally sensitive to cold, they won’t think to look. If you are diagnosed, you need to keep your fingers and toes warm, this could include having your house warmer than usual, wearing gloves when you go into the freezer, avoiding having air conditioners blowing directly on the hands or feet, and using mittens with those chemical hand warmer pads for the coldest winter months. Avoid operating machines that cause a lot of vibrations (electric back massagers, electric razors, jackhammers) because they can cause constriction of the blood vessels. In addition, you should avoid smoking, drugs like decongestants and stimulants for weight loss or attention deficit disorder because they can cause the small blood vessels in your digits to constrict and beta-blocker drugs which can reduce digital blood flow. UCONN Health has a rheumatology division of the New England Musculoskeletal Institute that deals with high risk Raynaud’s Phenomenon patients. In people with more severe disease they will prescribe drugs like calcium channel blockers to help keep the blood vessels from narrowing or to give you hand cream with nitroglycerin in it that you would rub on your fingers or toes.

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