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Causes of Raynaud’s disease

Explore the diverse causes of Raynaud's disease, understanding the multifaceted factors and triggers that underlie this circulatory disorder.

  • 22 Nov 2023
  • 3 min read

Raynaud's disease develops when the smaller arteries that supply blood to the skin narrow in size. Blood flow to the affected areas is thereby limited, leading to a condition called vasospasm. Raynaud's disease causes some body parts, such as fingers and toes, to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress. 

This condition is also known as:

  • The phenomenon of Raynaud's
  • Raynaud syndrome

Raynaud's disease is more common in women and becomes more prevalent in colder climates. The condition is treated according to its severity and whether there are other underlying health conditions. Raynaud's disease is generally not disabling, but it can significantly lower the quality of life. Let’s look at the causes of Raynaud's disease.


How is Raynaud’s disease caused?

Raynaud's syndrome causes remain a subject of ongoing research. Even so, it has been observed that the blood vessels in the extremities, particularly the hands and feet, exhibit an exaggerated response to cold temperatures or stress. During one such Raynaud’s episode, the arteries supplying blood to the fingers and toes constrict excessively when exposed to cold or stressors, impeding blood flow. Over time, these small arteries may undergo slight thickening, further restricting blood circulation. Exposure to frigid temperatures, immersing hands in cold water, or handling frozen items are common triggers for these attacks. Additionally, emotional stress can also induce episodes in some individuals.

Primary vs. Secondary Raynaud's

The condition can be classified into two main types.

  • Primary Raynaud's: In its most common form, other medical conditions are not causes of Raynaud's disease. It can be so mild that many people with primary Raynaud's do not seek medical treatment. It can also disappear on its own.
  • Secondary Raynaud's: This condition is also referred to as Raynaud's phenomenon. Though secondary Raynaud's is less common than primary Raynaud's, it tends to be more severe.

Symptoms of secondary Raynaud's usually appear around the age of 40. Raynaud's symptoms typically appear later than those associated with primary Raynaud's disease.

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Causes of secondary Raynaud's include:

  • Connective tissue diseases: Scleroderma is a rare disease that causes hardening and scarring of the skin. Most people with scleroderma also have Raynaud's disease, which is also associated with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren's syndrome.
  • Diseases of the arteries: Among these are fatty deposits in blood vessels that feed the heart, causing inflammation of the blood vessels in the hands and feet. Secondary Raynaud's disease is a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries and the lungs.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition exerts severe pressure on a major nerve in the hand. The pressure causes numbness and pain, making the hand more sensitive to cold temperatures.
  • Repeated actions or vibrations: Injuries from overuse may occur if you type, play the piano, or perform similar movements for an extended time. Using vibrating tools, such as jackhammers, can also be one such cause.
  • Certain medicines. Beta-blockers for high blood pressure and medicines for some migraine types, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders, certain cancer forms, and some types of cold can also cause secondary Raynaud’s. 



Hence, Raynaud's syndrome causes remain a subject of ongoing research. According to experts, the condition is caused by an exaggerated response of blood vessels in the extremities (hands and feet) to cold temperatures and stress. Still, the actual causes are yet to be fully understood. A comprehensive understanding of the complex factors contributing to Raynaud's syndrome is necessary to improve diagnostic and treatment strategies for individuals with this condition.

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