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Blue fingers and toes: cold, stress… or Raynaud’s phenomenon?

With the arrival of the harshest days of winter, many people experience their fingers and toes turning blue. Sometimes, this color change is accompanied by pain and itching in the affected area, so one may think that it is chilblains caused by the cold.

But what if it’s not chilblains but Raynaud’s phenomenon?

This pathology may or may not be related to rheumatic diseases and may be more or less serious. Raynaud’s phenomenon is a process in which the fingers, and less commonly the toes, nose, or ears, change color. It occurs when small blood vessels “constrict”, reducing the flow of blood that reaches, for example, the tips of the fingers. It can be caused by the cold, but also by stress, and usually evolves in three phases: a first of skin paleness due to vasospasm, which is followed by a bluish color due to tissue suffocation, and, finally, a phase of skin flushing due to the return of blood to the tissues. It can be accompanied by discomfort, a sensation of “pricks and needles” and itching, which is why it can be confused with chilblains.

Specialists point out that primary Raynaud’s phenomenon, which mainly affects women under 30 years of age, beyond the discomfort, does not represent any danger to health.

A different case is the secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon, that is, and as its name indicates, that which is related to other pathologies, mainly rheumatic ones. The most common rheumatic diseases associated with this phenomenon are scleroderma and lupus, although it can also be linked to others such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory myositis and Sjögren’s syndrome.

Therefore, specialists advise going to a rheumatologist if the symptoms occur frequently or severely, or if they lead to ulcers on the tips of the fingers.

How is it diagnosed?

To determine if the patient suffers from Raynaud’s phenomenon and if it is primary or secondary, in the case of a rheumatic disease associated with this phenomenon, a non-invasive test known as capillaroscopy is usually used, which consists of observing the blood vessels that are under the the ones.

As indicated by Dr. Manuel Romero, head of the Rheumatology service at the Quirónsalud Córdoba Hospital, the importance of diagnosing Raynaud’s disease lies in the fact that it can be the first manifestation of some serious pathologies such as scleroderma or others that belong to the group of so-called diseases. systemic autoimmune disorders noted above. Thus, through capillaroscopy, a rapid diagnosis of pathologies that cause a change in skin color can be established, which “is essential to minimize damage and improve the patient’s prognosis.”