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Diseases & Conditions
Numb fingers? Icy toes? It may be Raynauds.
Raynaud's phenomenon—an extreme reaction to cold—can be annoying, or it may signal a serious chronic condition.
If you live in the northern latitudes, you may have already had an episode in which your fingers froze or your nose, toes, or earlobes grew cold, pale, and numb. And if you're a southerner, you might have neighbors who migrated to avoid such episodes. While some people with chilly fingers just have cold sensitivity, others—especially women—may have Raynaud's phenomenon.
What is Raynaud's?
Two forms of Raynaud's
Primary Raynaud's phenomenon, which has no known cause, is much more common in women than in men and often begins in adolescence. Although it can be annoying and even painful, it usually doesn't require medical attention.
Secondary Raynaud's phenomenon occurs later in life in people who have injuries from operating vibrating tools or who have autoimmune disorders that affect connective tissue, such as scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus. These conditions can damage blood vessels and change their response to cold or stress. If you develop Raynaud's later in life, you should get a medical evaluation to determine whether you have secondary Raynaud's and, possibly, another underlying condition that warrants treatment.
Living with Raynaud's
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