Raynaud’s Phenomenon: Why Do Your Hands Change Colors?

When your hands are exposed to cold temperatures, do your fingers turn white, then blue, then red? If so, you might have Raynaud’s Phenomenon, a condition that causes the tiny blood vessels of the hands to constrict so much that they block blood flow in the hands and fingers. This is often caused by cold temperatures, although stress can also trigger an episode. Fortunately, most cases can be managed by a hand doctor without the services of a hand surgeon.

But why the different colors?

First, the absence of fresh blood flow makes your fingers appear white. Next, the blue oxygen-deprived blood pools in the fingers, turning them blue. Finally, when the blood vessels open up again, the influx of fresh, red blood makes your fingers red as well. During this process, you might feel numbness, tingling, or clumsiness in your fingers, but usually there’s no pain unless the lack of blood flow becomes too prolonged.

Raynaud’s is more common in areas with colder climates, and it occurs more frequently in women than in men. Both adults and children may suffer from its symptoms. Overall, up to 5% of the population may have Raynaud’s; most of them have an underlying condition that contributes to the problem, such as dermatomyositis, scleroderma, sjogren syndrome, or systemic lupus erythematosus.

Initial treatments for Raynaud’s are conservative and may combine relaxation therapy, temperature biofeedback, conditioning treatment, or medications that prevent blood vessels from constricting. In addition, lifestyle changes can prevent Raynaud’s attacks, including:

* Learning about the disease and its triggers
* Keeping hand warmers available
* Avoiding cold objects
* Avoiding trauma to the fingers
* Reducing stress
* Avoiding substances that tend to cause blood vessels to constrict, such as certain cold medications, narcotics, caffeine, and serotonin receptor medications

If you still experience episodes despite ongoing treatment and proper precautions, you might need hand surgery to boost the blood flow in your fingers and prevent ulcers. Hand surgeons often recommend digital sympathectomy, which involves stripping the outer layer of tissue off the artery of the affected finger and separating the artery from the adjacent nerve.

Raynaud’s Phenomenon is not a serious issue as long as you are careful to avoid prolonged periods of restricted blood flow. However, if you believe you might have Raynaud’s, contact a hand specialist for a customized treatment plan and to investigate whether you might have an underlying medical condition.