Raynaud’s syndrome refers to a reduction in blood flow to the extremities. This phenomenon commonly occurs in individuals with lupus, often resulting from inflammation of nerves or blood vessels.

People with Raynaud’s syndrome experience reduced blood flow to the hands and feet. This is typically due to blood vessels narrowing or entirely closing, which can cause discoloration and pain in the extremities.

The American College of Rheumatology states that around 10% of the population has primary Raynaud’s syndrome. Primary Raynaud’s syndrome is when the condition develops on its own, and it typically affects people under age 30 years. Secondary Raynaud’s syndrome is when it develops with another condition, such as lupus.

Lupus is a serious autoimmune condition that causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy tissue. The condition leads to inflammation around the body and can become severe. The exact cause of lupus is unclear, but the resulting inflammation can lead to Raynaud’s syndrome.

In this article, we will discuss what Raynaud’s phenomenon is and its relationship with lupus.

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Raynaud’s syndrome is a condition in which blood vessels leading to the body’s extremities narrow or close, reducing blood flow to these areas. It typically affects the fingers but can also affect the ears, toes, or other extremities.

This reduction in blood flow often occurs in response to changes in temperature or stress levels. For example, someone might experience symptoms from being too near an air conditioner or going outside in the winter. Symptoms occur in episodes and might include discoloration, discomfort, and swelling in the extremities.

There are two types of Raynaud’s syndrome:

  1. Primary Raynaud’s syndrome: This type of condition typically affects women under the age of 30 years. It causes symptoms that are uncomfortable, but it typically does not cause damage to the body.
  2. Secondary Raynaud’s syndrome: Secondary Raynaud’s syndrome occurs in people who already have another condition. Many other conditions can involve secondary Raynaud’s syndrome, including lupus and other autoimmune conditions.

The cause of primary Raynaud’s syndrome is unclear, but secondary Raynaud’s syndrome occurs due to another condition. Secondary Raynaud’s syndrome can become severe and may require aggressive treatment.

Lupus is a disease that causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack itself. There are many types of lupus, and it can cause a broad range of symptoms, including fever and tiredness. Doctors are uncertain about what exactly causes lupus, but it can lead to other conditions, such as secondary Raynaud’s syndrome.

Evidence suggests that one-third of people with lupus also have Raynaud’s syndrome. Similarly, 1 in 10 people with primary Raynaud’s go on to develop a condition associated with secondary Raynaud’s, such as lupus.

Lupus-related Raynaud’s may be the result of damage to blood vessels from inflammation. This damage can cause the walls of the arteries to become thicker, meaning they become more narrow and leave less space for blood to flow. It is also possible that conditions such as lupus cause the blood to become thicker due to excess platelets or red blood cells.

Doctors use a combination of checking the patient’s medical history, examining their symptoms, and using a cold challenge test to observe changes in skin color — or any other symptoms — following cold exposure.

They may also use blood tests to distinguish between primary and secondary Raynaud’s syndrome. Blood tests can detect the presence of other conditions, such as lupus. For example, doctors may order an antinuclear antibody test to identify specific proteins in the blood that are a sign of lupus.

Doctors may also use nailfold capillary microscopy. For this test, a doctor uses a magnifier to examine the fingernails for tiny blood vessels that may indicate Raynaud’s syndrome.

The symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome occur in episodes and can include:

  • color changes in the extremities in response to cold or warmth
  • pins and needles or pain in the extremities
  • swelling
  • irritation
  • sores on the fingers
  • infection

There is currently no cure for Raynaud’s syndrome, but treatments are available to help manage its symptoms. Treatment options for secondary Raynaud’s syndrome typically involve treating the underlying condition.

Click here to learn more about treating and managing lupus.

Prevention is key for managing Raynaud’s syndrome. As such, some useful tips may include:

  • avoiding cold places
  • wearing suitable clothes for the conditions
  • using hand warmers
  • avoiding air conditioning
  • stopping smoking
  • limiting caffeine
  • avoiding certain drugs, such as decongestants
  • avoiding stressful situations, where possible

As cases of secondary Raynaud’s, such as lupus-related Raynaud’s, can severely restrict the blood supply, they typically carry a higher risk of potential complications. They usually occur due to tissues of the extremities not receiving enough nutrients and oxygen from a sufficient blood supply.

While severe complications are rare, they may include:

Raynaud’s syndrome causes a restriction of blood flow to the fingers and sometimes other extremities. When the condition develops by itself, it is known as primary Raynaud’s syndrome. When it occurs due to an underlying condition, such as lupus, it is known as secondary Raynaud’s syndrome.

The condition causes episodes of symptoms that can include changes in color and pain in the extremities. These symptoms typically occur in response to changes in temperature or stress.

Due to the inflammatory nature of lupus, people with the condition may experience damage to their blood vessels that leads to secondary Raynaud’s syndrome. This form of the condition often causes symptoms that are more difficult to prevent and may require intense treatments to target the underlying cause.