About a year ago when I was out for an evening walk, I noticed that the tip of my right index finger began to feel unusually cold. When I looked at it, I noticed it was very white at the top. Within minutes, its color changed to blue and then to red, at which time I felt a burning and tingling sensation alerting me that the circulation was returning. I didn’t think much of this, even though it happened a few more times in the next several weeks. Three months later, I was with a friend near the starting line of a race in which we were about to compete. It was chilly and rainy outside, and she made a comment about her fingers being cold and numb. She told me her doctor diagnosed her with Raynaud’s phenomenon. As she described her symptoms, I realized they closely paralleled mine. Although I have yet to be officially diagnosed with Raynaud’s, I feel confident that what I continue to experience, even with just that one finger, is of this category.
Raynaud’s phenomenon causes a series of discolorations of the fingers and/or the toes after they are exposed to changes in temperatures, either hot or cold. It can also be triggered by emotional events. The discoloration of the skin occurs due to an abnormal spasm of the blood vessel, which creates a decrease in the flow of blood to the local tissues.
Much like my finger does, the digit(s) affected turn white at first because of lack of blood supply. Then, it will turn blue due to prolonged lack of oxygen, and it will finally become red and the blood vessels reopen. This is precisely what my one index finger does, and I experience this phenomenon at least three times a week. It can happen when I am outside in the cold or even when I have just momentarily run my hands under cool water from the tap.
Raynaud’s affects women more frequently than men, especially those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Raynaud’s can present as a stand-alone issue or as a part of other rheumatic diseases. Occurring alone, it is known as Raynaud’s disease. When it happens in conjunction with other diseases, it is referred to as secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon.
The causes of Raynaud’s phenomenon are not known.