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What Causes Raynaud's?

There are two main types of Raynaud’s—primary and secondary.

In primary Raynaud’s (also called Raynaud’s disease), the cause isn't known. Primary Raynaud's is more common and tends to be less severe than secondary Raynaud's. 

Secondary Raynaud’s is caused by an underlying disease, condition, or other factor. This type of Raynaud's is often called Raynaud's phenomenon.

Causes of Secondary Raynaud's

Many things can cause secondary Raynaud's. Examples include:

  • Diseases and conditions that directly damage the arteries or damage the nerves that control the arteries in the hands and feet
  • Repetitive actions that damage the nerves that control the arteries in the hands and feet
  • Injuries to the hands and feet
  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • Medicines that narrow the arteries or affect blood pressure

Diseases and Conditions

Secondary Raynaud's is linked to diseases and conditions that directly damage the arteries. The disorder also is linked to diseases and conditions that damage the nerves that control the arteries in the hands and feet.

For example, Raynaud’s occurs in most people who have scleroderma (skler-o-DER-ma). It also is a common problem for people with lupus.

Other examples of diseases and conditions that can cause Raynaud's include:

  • Rheumatoid (RU-ma-toyd) arthritis
  • Atherosclerosis (ath-er-o-skler-O-sis)
  • Blood disorders such as cryoglobulinemia (KRI-o-GLOB-yu-li-NE-me-ah) and polycythemia (POL-e-si-THE-me-ah)
  • Sjögren's (SHOW-gren's) syndrome, dermatomyositis (DER-ma-to-mi-o-SI-tis), and polymyositis (POL-e-mi-o-SI-tis)
  • Buerger's disease

Thyroid problems and pulmonary hypertension also may cause Raynaud's.

Repetitive Actions

Repetitive actions that damage the arteries or the nerves that control the arteries in the hands and feet may lead to Raynaud's.

Typing, playing the piano, or doing other similar movements repeatedly over long periods may lead to secondary Raynaud's. Using vibrating tools, such as jackhammers and drills, also may raise your risk of developing Raynaud's.

Hand or Foot Injuries

Injuries to the hands or feet from accidents, frostbite, surgery, or other causes can lead to Raynaud's.

Chemicals

Exposure to certain workplace chemicals can cause a scleroderma-like illness that's linked to Raynaud's. An example of this type of chemical is vinyl chloride, which is used in the plastics industry.

The nicotine in cigarettes also can raise your risk of developing Raynaud's.

Medicines

Certain medicines can cause secondary Raynaud's, including:

  • Migraine headache medicines that contain ergotamine. This substance causes the arteries to narrow.
  • Certain cancer medicines, such as cisplatin and vinblastine.
  • Some over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines and diet aids. Some of these medicines can narrow your arteries.
  • Beta blockers. These medicines slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.
  • Birth control pills. These medicines can affect blood flow.
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Raynaud's Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Raynaud's, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

 
March 21, 2014 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.

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