Types of Raynaud's phenomenon


Types list: The list of types of Raynaud's phenomenon mentioned in various sources includes:

  • Primary Raynaud's phenomenon - most common form; of unknown causes without an underlying cause.
  • Secondary Raynaud's phenomenon - caused by another condition such as lupus or scleroderma.
  • Vibration-induced white finger - caused by vibrating tools

Types discussion: Doctors classify Raynaud's phenomenon as either the primary or the secondary form. In medical literature, "primary Raynaud's phenomenon" may also be called Raynaud's disease, idiopathic Raynaud's phenomenon, or primary Raynaud's syndrome. The terms idiopathic and primary both mean that the cause is unknown.

Primary Raynaud's Phenomenon

Most people who have Raynaud's phenomenon have the primary form (the milder version). A person who has primary Raynaud's phenomenon has no underlying disease or associated medical problems. More women than men are affected, and approximately 75 percent of all cases are diagnosed in women who are between 15 and 40 years old.

People who have only vasospastic attacks for several years, without involvement of other body systems or organs, rarely have or will develop a secondary disease (that is, a connective tissue disorder such as scleroderma) later. Several researchers who studied people who appeared to have primary Raynaud's phenomenon over long periods of time found that less than 9 percent of these people developed a secondary disease.

Secondary Raynaud's Phenomenon

Although secondary Raynaud's phenomenon is less common than the primary form, it is often a more complex and serious disorder. Secondary means that patients have an underlying disease or condition that causes Raynaud's phenomenon. Connective tissue diseases are the most common cause of secondary Raynaud's phenomenon. Some of these diseases reduce blood flow to the digits by causing blood vessel walls to thicken and the vessels to constrict too easily. Raynaud's phenomenon is seen in approximately 85 to 95 percent of patients with scleroderma and mixed connective tissue disease, and it is present in about one-third of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. Raynaud's phenomenon also can occur in patients who have other connective tissue diseases, including Sjögren's syndrome, dermatomyositis, and polymyositis.

Possible causes of secondary Raynaud's phenomenon, other than connective tissue diseases, are carpal tunnel syndrome and obstructive arterial disease (blood vessel disease). Some drugs, including beta-blockers (used to treat high blood pressure), ergotamine preparations (used for migraine headaches), certain agents used in cancer chemotherapy, and drugs that cause vasoconstriction (such as some over-the-counter cold medications and narcotics), are linked to Raynaud's phenomenon.

People in certain occupations may be more vulnerable to secondary Raynaud's phenomenon. Some workers in the plastics industry (who are exposed to vinyl chloride) develop a scleroderma-like illness, of which Raynaud's phenomenon can be a part. Workers who operate vibrating tools can develop a type of Raynaud's phenomenon called vibration-induced white finger.

People with secondary Raynaud's phenomenon often experience associated medical problems. The more serious problems are skin ulcers (sores) or gangrene (tissue death) in the fingers or toes. Painful ulcers and gangrene are fairly common and can be difficult to treat. In addition, a person may experience heartburn or difficulty in swallowing. These two problems are caused by weakness in the muscle of the esophagus (the tube that takes food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach) that can occur in people with connective tissue diseases.1

Primary Raynaud's usually affects both hands and both feet, and the cause is not known for certain. Secondary Raynaud's usually affects either both hands or both feet. Causes of secondary Raynaud's can be identified.2

Most people have primary Raynaud’s phenomenon, which is the milder form of the disorder. Approximately 75% of all cases are diagnosed in women between 15 and 40 years of age. Secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon is much less common, but is more complex and serious. It is characterized by an underlying disease or condition that causes vasoconstriction such as connective tissue diseases, carpal tunnel syndrome, or obstructive arterial disease. It can also occur in reaction to certain drugs (e.g., beta blockers, certain cancer chemotherapies) or environmental exposures (e.g., vinyl chloride used in the plastics industry). 3

1. excerpt from Questions and Answers about Raynaud's Phenomenon: NIAMS
2. excerpt from NHLBI, Raynaud's Phenomenon: NHLBI
3. excerpt from Raynauds Phenomenon: NWHIC

Last revision: June 12, 2003

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