Condition Spotlight: Raynaud’s Phenomenon

image of bottom of foot of someone with reynauds phenomenon

Do your feet and toes struggle to warm up, particularly in the cold weather?

Do your toes frequently feel freezing cold or numb?

When this happens do your toes look red, blue or a pale white colour?

If yes, then you might have what’s called Raynaud’s phenomenon.

This causes a disruption to the blood flow of your extremities like your toes, causing them to become extremely cold.


What is Raynaud’s phenomenon?

Raynaud’s is a condition that occurs with frequent exposure to cold temperatures or even repetitive stress.

This causes a disruption and narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply the skin on your toes, causing them to become cold, numb and sometimes painful.

There are two types of Raynaud’s phenomenon these are:

  • Primary Raynaud’s – This type occurs on its own and has no known underlying causes
  • Secondary Raynaud’s – Known to be linked with another disease or condition like arthritis or autoimmune diseases.


What does Raynaud’s phenomenon feel like?

When we get cold, our hands and feet tend to get cold first as our body protects itself by keeping our core warm.

This type of feeling is similar to Raynaud’s which causes our toes to feel extremely cold and numb.

People with Primary Raynaud’s describe being able to feel a significant drop in temperature at their toes with little to no pain in the area.

Alternatively, those with Secondary Raynaud’s have a similar feeling of cold, but they often experience pain and tingling in the toes. During this stage your toes appear a pale white that changes into a pale blue colour. Once the circulation of blood in your toes returns you might feel a throbbing, burning, or prickly sensation in your toes, and see that your toes have changed from a blue colour to red.


What causes Raynaud’s phenomenon?

The exact cause of Raynaud’s isn’t known, especially for those with primary Raynaud’s, which is described as being “idiopathic”, meaning that the cause is still unknown.

This is not the same in secondary Raynaud’s, which has the following causes:

  • Connective Tissue Diseases – Such as scleroderma, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Arterial Diseases – These conditions can cause plaque build up on the walls of arteries that supply blood to your toes and feet.
  • Smoking – Disrupts the circulation of blood flow around the body.
  • Medications – These include beta blockers which are used to treat high blood pressure, some migraine medications, and drugs that cause blood vessels to constrict.

Triggers of Raynaud’s and the disruption of the blood flow to your toes include constant exposure to cold temperatures, like putting your hands in cold water or taking something out of the freezer; Stress; and even operating battery powered tools like drills or jackhammers can cause vasospasms and result in Raynaud’s.


Who does Raynaud’s phenomenon affect?

Raynaud’s can affect anyone however it is more common in:

  • Females
  • People aged between 15 – 30
  • Those that live in colder climates
  • Having a known family history like a parent or sibling Raynaud’s


How is Raynaud’s phenomenon diagnosed?

Diagnosing Raynaud’s phenomenon is reasonably easy through detailed questioning, the description of symptoms and inspection of the toes.

When checking your toes, we look for any significant colour change as well as looking for small dark sores like chilblains on the ends of your toes.

If Raynaud’s is suspected from the initial assessment and diagnosis, we might send for blood tests and nail inspection under a microscope. The reason that we do this is to determine if the Raynaud’s is primary or secondary.


How is it treated?

So, what are some strategies that you can use to stop Raynaud’s from occurring as frequently?

  • Keeping Warm – Keeping your extremities warm throughout the day is really important! This can be done by wearing thick socks and shoes, running your toes under lukewarm water and massaging your hands or feet to promote blood flow.
  • Lowering Stress – Avoiding stressful situations and temporarily removing yourself from them is of benefit. Additionally, learning strategies to lower stress levels throughout the day have shown to be helpful.
  • Knowing your triggers – Each case of Raynaud’s will have different triggers that cause the disruption of blood flow to your toes or fingers. Understanding what brings an attack on and avoiding this trigger is helpful. For example, smoking has been found to be a prominent trigger in many people with Raynaud’s and stopping smoking has had a positive outcome.
  • Secondary Raynaud’s Treatment – Treatment of your secondary Raynaud’s can be managed with the above tips however knowing the underlying cause and treating this will have the best benefits.


Want to know more on how to protect your feet during the colder months? Check out our blog “Winter and the health of your feet“.


If anything we’ve described today sounds familiar to you, or if you’re experiencing any pain or discomfort in your feet and/or lower limbs, come see us here at Watsonia Podiatry.  You can book an appointment to see us online or by calling us on (03) 9432 3689.