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Fingers Numb and Cold? You Could Have Raynaud’s Disease

Do your fingers and toes turn into color-changing mood rings in cold weather? Do they sometimes feel cold and numb? You may have Raynaud’s phenomenon – a syndrome that causes parts of your body to get really cold and change colors when exposed to the cold or stress.  

Raynaud’s is fairly common. It happens more in women and people who live in colder climates. While not usually serious, Raynaud’s can be annoying.  

Learn more about why this syndrome happens, how to prevent symptoms and ways to find relief. 

What is Raynaud’s? 

Raynaud’s phenomenon (also called Raynaud’s disease or Raynaud’s syndrome) is a condition that affects circulation, causing blood vessels in the hands and feet to react to cold temperatures and stress.  

“When a person with Raynaud’s is exposed to cold or stress, their blood vessels start to narrow (constrict), a phenomenon called vasospasm, which prevents the blood from reaching the skin’s surface,” said Lori Cannon, a rheumatology family nurse practitioner with Banner – University Medicine.  

Raynaud’s is a blood circulation problem, but it differs from what you might commonly think of as poor circulation. Poor circulation means blood isn’t flowing well through the body, which can affect more than just your fingers and toes. It can happen for many reasons, like sitting or standing for too long, not moving enough or having health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart problems.  

Raynaud’s can affect people who are younger and healthy. Symptoms usually begin between ages 15 and 25.  

Symptoms of Raynaud’s 

You might notice your fingers or toes turn white or blue if you have Raynaud's. They might also feel cold, numb or tingly. They might turn red and throb as blood flow returns or feel painful.  

“Most commonly, Raynaud’s affects the fingers and toes, but it can also affect other areas of the body, such as your nose, lips, ears and nipples,” Cannon said. 

Types of Raynaud’s 

There are two main types of Raynaud’s – primary and secondary:  

  • Primary Raynaud’s is the more common type and usually occurs on its own for no known reason. Usually, the symptoms are minor and do not require treatment.  
  • Secondary Raynaud’s has more extreme symptoms and usually has an underlying cause, like disease, injury or certain medications. The fingers and toes typically have a more defined white or blue/purple hue. 

“Symptoms can occur spontaneously or from the cold and last for 20 minutes or more,” Cannon said. “When blood flow is restricted for this long period, it can cause pain and, over time, tissue damage. The lack of oxygen to these tissues can cause skin sores and, in more severe cases, tissue death (necrosis) and amputations may be needed.” 

The most common causes of secondary Raynaud’s are usually related to: 

Exercise doesn’t directly cause secondary Raynaud’s, but it can sometimes make the condition worse. “This is due to vasoconstrictions after exercise is completed,” Cannon said. “We see it a lot in runners after they have completed their run or after vigorous exercise.”  

Diagnosing Raynaud’s 

Diagnosing Raynaud’s is like putting together puzzle pieces, but your health care provider will start with a medical history and physical exam. They will ask when your fingers and toes feel cold and change colors.  

Your provider will also check your body and might do tests where they expose your hands to the cold, like dipping them in cold water to see how they react or examine your fingernail beds closely. They may also do a blood test to rule out other conditions causing your symptoms.  

Tips for relief and comfort  

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for primary Raynaud’s. If you have secondary Raynaud’s, your provider can treat the underlying condition, which may help improve your symptoms.  

The best way to control your symptoms is with lifestyle changes. Here are some tips that might help: 

  • Bundle up outdoors: Dress in layers. Wear gloves (sometimes two sets!), thermal underwear, socks and a hat when going out in cold weather. Use hand and foot warmers to maintain warmth. Warm your car before driving in cold weather. 
  • Take care indoors: Wear socks and mittens to bed during the winter. Set the air conditioning to a warmer temperature.  
  • Avoid handling cold objects: Use insulated drinking cups that keep hands from feeling cold. You may need gloves, mittens or oven mitts to remove food from the refrigerator or freezer. 
  • Manage stress: Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation or yoga to help reduce stress levels and prevent episodes. 
  • Keep moving: If you’re in a cold environment, try to keep moving to promote blood flow and warmth. Wiggle your fingers and toes, clench and unclench your fists and move your arms and legs regularly. 
  • Limit caffeine and nicotine: These products can restrict blood vessels. Limit or avoid caffeine and nicotine-containing products like coffee, tea and cigarettes. 
  • Warm up gradually: Avoid sudden temperature changes when coming in from the cold. Instead, warm up gradually by taking off wet clothes and slowly warming your hands and feet with warm blankets or water. 
  • Consider medications: In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help manage severe symptoms. These medications work by dilating your blood vessels and improving blood flow. Talk to your health care provider or rheumatologist to discuss if medication may help you. 


If your fingers or toes are changing colors and painful when you are around cold weather or stressed, talk to your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist to figure out why it’s happening and what to do. While there is no specific treatment for Raynaud’s phenomenon, your provider can help make a diagnosis and help keep your symptoms under control.  

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