Raynaud's Phenomenon

Raynaud's Phenomenon
Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Treatment Options
Drug Therapies
Surgical Procedures
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Following Up
Special Considerations
Supporting Research

Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition where blood vessels in the fingers and toes (and sometimes in the earlobes, nose, and lips) constrict. It is usually triggered by cold or by emotional stress. Episodes are intermittent and may last minutes or hours. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of the U.S. population is affected, and women are affected five times more often than men. It usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 40 in women and later in life in men.

Signs and Symptoms
  • Changes in skin color in the fingers or toes and sometimes in the nose, legs, or earlobes (may occur in three phases: white, blue, then red)
  • Throbbing, tingling, numbness, and pain
  • Deterioration of the pads on fingertips or toes
  • Gangrenous ulcers near fingertips

What Causes It?

Risk factors for Raynaud's phenomenon include the following.

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Age in women (onset primarily between the ages of 20 and 40)
  • Occupation (for example, using vibrating tools such as chain saws and jackhammers)
  • Drug use, including some cancer drugs, narcotics, and over-the-counter cold medications
  • Electric shock injury
  • Previous frostbite
  • Repetitive physical stress (for example, typing or playing the piano)
  • Primary pulmonary hypertension
  • Exposure to cold
  • Psychological stress
  • General medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus, and carpal tunnel syndrome

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Your health care provider may conduct several laboratory tests, such as the antinuclear antibody test, to look for antibodies associated with connective tissue disease or other autoimmune disorders. If you have Raynaud's phenomenon, your provider will most likely begin with a conservative approach involving nondrug and self-help measures (for example, dressing warmly, avoiding the cold, controlling stress).

Treatment Options

One of the most important preventive measures you can take is to stop smoking because nicotine shrinks arteries and decreases blood flow. Other preventive measures include the following.

  • Protecting yourself from cold, especially outdoors in the winter
  • Guarding against cuts and other injuries to affected areas
  • Exercising, such as raising your arms above your head and then whirling them vigorously, to increase circulation

Drug Therapies

Several types of drugs are used to treat Raynaud's phenomenon. Calcium-channel blockers can reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. Vasodilators (drugs that open up blood vessels) are also recommended.

Surgical Procedures

If attacks become extremely frequent and severe and interfere with your well-being and ability to work or function, a surgical procedure called sympathectomy may be used. This surgery becomes less effective as the disease advances.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies
  • Vitamin E (400 to 800 IU per day) improves circulation and helps certain blood cells function well.
  • Vitamin C (1,000 mg two to three times per day) supports connective tissue and reduces swelling.
  • B-complex (50 to 100 mg per day) reduces stress.
  • Coenzyme Q10 (100 mg two times per day) promotes healthy tissues.
  • Calcium (1,500 mg per day) and magnesium (200 mg three times per day) relieves spasm.
  • Omega-3 oils (1,500 mg two to three times per day) reduce swelling and help certain blood cells function well.
  • Zinc (30 to 50 mg per day) boosts your immune system.


Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, it is important to work with your provider on getting your problem diagnosed before you start any treatment. Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. Tinctures may be used singly or in combination as noted. The following herbs are circulatory stimulants with other properties as well. Use one or more tinctures in combination. Take 20 to 30 drops two times per day.

  • Hawthorn berries (Crataegus laevigata) strengthens and mildly dilates blood vessels
  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) (120 to 160 mg per day for dried extracts) keeps blood cells from sticking together
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a gentle relaxant
  • Ginger root (Zingiber officianale) is a mild soothing agent
  • Prickly ash bark (Xanthoxylum clava-herculis) enhances lymph activity and integrity of blood vessels


Homeopathy may be useful as a supportive therapy.


Acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct therapy.

Following Up

Most milder cases can be brought under control through self-help measures.

Special Considerations

Many drugs used to treat Raynaud's phenomenon can affect a growing fetus and should not be used by pregnant women.

Supporting Research

Balch JF, Balch PA. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 2nd ed. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group; 1997.

Batchelder HJ. Allopathic specific condition review: Raynaud's disease. Protocol J Botan Med. 1996;2:134-137.

Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Isselbacher KJ, et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1998.

Mitchell W, Batchelder HJ. Naturopathic specific condition review: Raynaud's disease. Protocol J Botan Med. 1996;2:138-140.

Tierney LM Jr, McPhee SJ, Papadakis MA, eds. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 1999. 38th ed. Stamford, Conn: Appleton & Lange; 1999.

Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Dahlia Hirsch, MD, Center for Holistic Healing, BelAir, MD; Richard A. Lippin, MD, President, The Lippin Group, Southampton, PA; Leonard Wisneski, MD, FACP, George Washington University, Rockville, MD.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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