Aaron Sta Maria
Written by Aaron Sta Maria

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan

Raynaud’s Phenomenon: The Disease That Turns Your Skin Blue

A notable sign of Raynaud’s phenomenon is a change of colour in the fingertips and toes. It can also affect other parts of the body as well.

Discoloured fingertips are a notable sign of Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Named after Maurice Raynaud, Raynaud’s phenomenon is a term coined in 1862 to describe the first episode of vasospasms – an obstruction of blood flow due to narrow brain blood vessels – involving the fingers and toes. Sometimes, it can also affect the nose, lips, ear lobes and even nipples, turning them cold, numb, and a purple or bluish shade.

The causes of Raynaud’s phenomenon are yet to be determined. In addition, the disease is not treatable but manageable with a combination of clinical and alternative modalities. Let’s discover possible risk factors of the disease and steps to suppress its symptoms effectively.

Droplets of rain falling on a black umbrella outdoors
A cold environment is a risk factor of Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Causes of Raynaud’s Phenomenon 

The disease can be categorised as Primary or Secondary Raynaud’s. Primary Raynaud’s refers to the occurrence of the disease on its own. Secondary Raynaud’s happens comorbid to several medical conditions.

Primary Raynaud’s is milder and more prevalent than Secondary Raynaud’s. The former occurs in 75% of women between the ages of 15 and 40 and is less severe than the latter. People who develop Primary Raynaud’s also rarely develop related health conditions.

Secondary Raynaud’s is common in people with connective tissue diseases. These can reduce blood flow to the fingers and toes, resulting in thickened blood vessel walls. 

Icy cold temperatures 

Usually, a person’s body who is exposed to low temperature will respond by slowing heat loss. It’ll induce the blood vessels to move blood from the surface arteries to the deep veins.

However, this normal body response will intensify in people with Raynaud’s phenomenon. It’ll contract the small blood vessels linked to the fingers and toes, prompting skin discolouration. Separately, emotional stress can also have the same effect on these limbs. 

Disarrayed body constitutions  

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that the Heart ensures optimal blood circulation while the Lungs support the Heart’s circulatory function. Meanwhile, the Spleen produces blood and governs the limbs and extremities – an appendage of the body like the feet and hands. The Kidneys store primordial qi (vital life force) and yang (active energy).

According to Brandon Yew, Senior Physician at Real Health Medical, “Deficiencies of Blood, Qi and Yang in the Heart, Spleen, Lungs and Kidneys will enable pathogens to accumulate or form within the meridian channels. These include Cold, Phlegm, Dampness, Blood Stasis and Qi Stagnation. They’ll thereby disrupt blood and qi circulation to the extremities.” 

Woman stretching her hands to her side smilingly as lies on her bed
The warmth of morning sunlight can effectively control Raynaud’s phenomenon symptoms.

3 Things to Help You Cope with Raynaud’s Phenomenon  

To properly diagnose the disease, a healthcare provider may perform a cold stimulation test. It’ll require you to place your fingers in an ice water bath. If the colour in your hands and fingers change, it can indicate Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Next, you will undergo a diagnostic test called a nailfold capillaroscopy – a study of capillaries under a microscope – to differentiate between the two types of Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Out with the cold, in with the warm 

The best way to fend off Raynaud’s phenomenon is to refrain from consuming cooling foods and beverages. It’s also advisable to avoid activities performed in a cold environment.

Some of the foods and beverages that need to be limited or avoided are: 

  • Uncooked salads or raw sashimi 
  • Beer, green tea, or herbal cooling teas 
  • Brinjal 
  • Cabbage 
  • Celery 
  • Cucumber 
  • Dragon fruit 
  • Eggplant 
  • Kelp 
  • Kiwi 
  • Mangosteen 
  • Papaya 
  • Pear 
  • Bitter gourd 
  • Lotus root 

Try to steer clear of air-conditioned spaces, cold baths or showers, or water sports and activities. Instead, you should expose your skin to morning or evening sunlight for up to ten minutes daily. Taking warm baths or showers or visiting the sauna occasionally can also help.

Take foods that are served warm or warming foods like chicken, sweet potatoes, and, for lovers of the King of Fruits, durian. Beverages like coffee or black and red teas can be consumed too. These foods and beverages should be taken in moderation. 

Manage symptoms with medication 

The use of medication is more frequent among people with Secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon. Calcium-channel blockers are the safest and most effective medications for relaxing smooth muscles – involuntary muscle tissues that have many functions – and dilating the small blood vessels. These have been found to reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms in two-thirds of people with the disease.

Alpha-blockers can be used to prevent norepinephrine hormones from shrinking blood vessels. Vasodilators relax blood vessels and can be applied to the fingers to heal skin ulcers. 

Herbal formulas can support the suppression of Raynaud’s phenomenon symptoms by correcting specific body constitution imbalances. Examples of these are: 

  • Fu Ling Wan (茯苓丸), which dispels phlegm and Dampness, and restores and enhances qi circulation  
  • Si Ni San (四逆散), which dissipates Qi Stagnation, and restores and enhances qi circulation  
  • Si Ni Tang (四逆汤), which dispels Cold, regenerates yang energy in the Heart and Kidneys, and restores and enhances blood and qi circulation  
  • Dang Gui Si Ni Tang (当归四逆汤), which dispels cold, regenerates blood and yang energy, and restores and enhances blood and qi circulation  
  • Bu Yang Huan Wu Tang (补阳还五汤), which regenerates qi, dissipates Blood Stasis, and restores and enhances blood and qi circulation  
  • Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang (桂枝芍药知母汤), which dispels Cold and Dampness, restores and enhances blood and qi circulation, and regenerates blood, qi, and yang energy in the Spleen, Heart and Lungs 
3D illustrations of the san yin jiao, nei guan and tai chong points
Pressing on the nei guan, san yin jiao and tai chong points can address the imbalances associated with Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Activate symptomatic relief with acupressure point stimulation 

Applying pressure to certain points on the meridians, too, may reverse the effects of Raynaud’s phenomenon in the fingers and toes. A few of the acupressure points that can benefit the body are: 

  • Tai xi (KI3, 太谿), which strengthens the Kidneys, and regenerates blood and qi  
  • He gu (LI4, 合谷), which dissipates Qi Stagnation, and restores and improves qi circulation 
  • San yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交), which regenerates blood and qi, and strengthens the Liver, Spleen, and Kidneys 
  • Nei guan (PC6, 内关) which dispels Blood Stasis, strengthens the Heart, and restores and enhances blood circulation 
  • Zu san li (ST36, 足三里) which strengthens the Spleen, dispels Dampness, Phlegm, and Qi Stagnation, and restores and enhances qi circulation 
  • Tai chong (LR3, 太沖) which regenerates blood, soothes the Liver, dispels Blood Stasis and Qi Stagnation, and restores and enhances blood and qi circulation 

While Raynaud’s phenomenon is an incurable disease, early intervention can help you be more mindful of their triggers and be able to recognise the steps to help manage symptoms. 

Traditional formulas should be considered after speaking to a licensed TCM practitioner. It will enable you to identify the modalities suitable for your body constitution and evade the detrimental effects of self-medication.

If your symptoms persist or worsen, do promptly seek professional medical help from a qualified TCM physician when. For more effective acupuncture treatment, a qualified TCM acupuncturist should be consulted.

References

  1. Medscape. 2020. Raynaud Phenomenon. [online] [Accessed 26 May 2022] 
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Raynaud’s Phenomenon. [online] [Accessed 26 May 2022]
  3. Cleveland Clinic. Raynaud’s Phenomenon. [online] [Accessed 26 May 2022] 
  4. MedlinePlus. Cold Stimulation Test. [online] [Accessed 26 May 2022] 

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