Raynaud Phenomenon

Because our bodies are always reacting to the world around us, it’s normal for our faces, hands and even feet to change color in cold weather as the body uses blood flow to adjust its “thermostat.” But if your child has a rare condition known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, his blood vessels react in an exaggerated way to cold or stress, with his fingers or toes turning markedly blue and/or white, and sometimes red.

Seeing your child’s fingers turn blue in temperatures that feel comfortable to you can be a little frightening. However, for the vast majority of children with Raynaud’s phenomenon, the condition is little more than a nuisance and requires no medical treatment, only some simple lifestyle changes.

  • Raynaud’s (pronounced “ray-nodes”) is found in about 4 to 15 percent of the population. It affects females more than males, and tends to begin in the teen years.
  • Color changes show up often in the fingers, sometimes in the toes and rarely in the nose, ears and lips.
  • A Raynaud’s attack can be triggered by emotional stress as well as cold.
  • Children and adolescents most commonly have primary Raynaud’s, which has no known cause and isn’t a serious health threat.
  • Rarely, Raynaud’s is caused by an underlying disease that requires diagnosis and therapy. This is called “secondary Raynaud’s,” and can be a harbinger of a more serious health threat.

How Boston Children’s Hospital approaches Raynaud’s phenomenon

While pediatricians can diagnose Raynaud’s, the role of the rheumatologist is to detect any potential underlying cause — such as scleroderma or lupus — and then put together a comprehensive treatment plan. At Children’s, our rheumatologists are well prepared to meet this challenge:

  • Working in one of the largest rheumatology programs in the United States, we treat more than 4,000 outpatients and almost 1,000 inpatients every year.
  • We see children from across the country and around the world for expert consultation and second opinions on difficult or complex inflammatory conditions.
  • We work closely with other Children’s specialists, such as dermatologists and radiologists, to diagnose and manage complex multisystem diseases.

Reviewed by Peter Nigrovic, MD — © Children’s Hospital Boston, 2010