Painful Blue and Purple Fingers in the Cold? Here’s Why.


Raynaud’s phenomenon is a rare condition that causes discoloration and discomfort in the hands and toes when you’re exposed to cold temperatures. 

By the time they hit their twenties or thirties, some people begin to notice unusual discomfort in their fingers and toes during cold weather — and even during stressful situations. This syndrome is particularly prevalent among women, and it’s known as Raynaud’s phenomenon. Sometimes called “Raynaud’s disease,” Raynaud’s phenomenon is an often-painful condition characterized by a discoloration of the fingers and toes.

Typically, patients with Raynaud’s will notice their fingers and toes turning white; after more time in the cold, a bluish tint will develop. Once you’re out of the cold, you’ll notice a painful red flushing of the skin as you begin to warm up. 

Warm-weather Floridians can go decades without realizing they have Raynaud’s, only to take a ski trip one winter and be unpleasantly surprised. If you believe you may be one of them, here’s what you need to know about this unusual condition.

What Causes Raynaud’s? 

Raynaud’s is a result of blood vessel spasms near the surface of your skin. During cold temperatures and periods of emotional duress, small blood vessels in the fingers and toes — and, more rarely, the nose and ears — constrict unexpectedly, blocking blood flow to the surface of the skin, resulting in a white tint. 

Once the blood flow has been blocked for a while, and your skin begins to experience oxygen deprivation, it develops a blue tint. Later, once the blood vessels reopen, the skin turns red due to an unusually large influx of blood. 

There are two types of Raynaud’s: primary Raynaud’s and secondary Raynaud’s. Primary Reynaud’s often occurs without warning, and its medical cause is unclear, though we do know that people whose family members have Raynaud’s are more likely to show symptoms of primary Raynaud’s. Secondary Raynaud’s has almost identical symptoms to primary Raynaud’s, but it arises due to other diseases that affect your blood flow, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, primary pulmonary hypertension, or artery disease. 

How Do I Know if I Have Raynaud’s? 

The symptoms of primary Raynaud’s usually become apparent in early adulthood, beginning in your twenties but sometimes as late as your forties. Secondary Raynaud’s can begin at a more variable time, since its onset is usually sparked by another disease. There is a good deal of variation in the severity of Raynaud’s symptoms, but Raynaud’s is almost always accompanied by skin discoloration. More severe cases of Raynaud’s can be very painful. In extreme cases, ulcers or even gangrene could develop if your blood vessel constriction lasts for an extended period of time. 

If you have a disease that commonly contributes to Raynaud’s, such as lupus, carpal tunnel syndrome, or artery disease, you are at greater risk of developing secondary Raynaud’s. 

Is Raynaud’s Treatable? 

Raynaud’s has no known cure. However, for people with Raynaud’s phenomenon, there’s a bit of good news — doctors have identified several helpful practices to minimize the painful effects of your Raynaud’s. 

Since Raynaud’s operates through an abnormal constriction and then release of your blood vessels, drugs that help to open up your blood vessels — like Aspirin — can help to remedy the effects of the phenomenon. 

Other ways to treat a Raynaud’s flare include:

Keep your AC at a reasonable level. Floridians like to blast the AC, especially in the heat of summer. But, if you’re prone to Raynaud’s attacks, a cold gust of AC can be enough to trigger an attack. Make sure your AC is comfortable but not too chilly.

Soak your hands in warm water. If you sense a Raynaud’s attack coming on, soaking your hands in warm (not scalding hot) water can help to release constricting blood vessels and relax blood vessel spasms. 

Quit smoking. Nicotine constricts blood vessels, and the chemicals that you inhale with cigarettes can severely damage your blood vessel health. Quitting smoking can help you stay safe from Raynaud’s flare ups.

Stay warm. Since Raynaud’s phenomenon is often triggered by cold weather, whenever you visit a place with a cool climate, make sure to take the necessary precautions to stay warm and comfortable. Wear layers and gloves, and always pack hand warmers.

If you suspect you’re showing symptoms of Raynaud’s, give us a call at Florida Hand Center. With years of experience treating rare hand conditions, we can recommend the best treatment options for your unique hand concerns. Stop by Florida Hand Center for a free hand screening, then make an appointment with one of our board-certified hand doctors today.