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Raynaud’s phenomenon: Often harmless, sometimes dangerous

White fingers due to a circulatory disorder may signal a systematic disease

(Vienna, 15-01-2016) Younger women in particular sometimes complain of noticeably paler fingers or toes when it is cold or when they are stressed. Known as Raynaud’s phenomenon (or Raynaud’s disease), this circulatory disorder is completely harmless in 90% of cases. In rare cases, another medical condition may underlie it. A research group at MedUni Wien (Medical University of Vienna) has discovered through simple tests that people with Raynaud’s phenomenon face not only the risk of another disease, but also a reduced life expectancy. Through this, it can be determined which affected patients benefit from regular doctor’s appointments.

White fingers are usually caused by a harmless blood circulation disorder (Raynaud’s phenomenon), which is triggered by cold or stress, and which is treated by keeping the hands warm. However, in approximately ten percent of cases, the symptoms are an indication of a medical condition. This may be an autoimmune disorder, a cardiovascular disease, a tumour, or a side effect of medication. In order to be certain, there are two effective testing methods, in addition to the patient’s medical history. In the first, the capillaries of the nail fold are analysed by means of a nail fold capillary microscopy. And in the other, a blood test verifies whether, for example, antibodies attack the correct organism.

The research group at the Medical University of Vienna, consisting of researchers from the Divisions of Angiology (study directors Oliver Schlager and Michael Gschwandtner, and lead author Markus Müller) and Rheumatology (Department of Internal Medicine II and III), the Department of Laboratory Medicine, and the Center of Medical Statistics, Informatics and Intelligent Systems, evaluated the patient data of 2958 people from between 1994 and 2008, in terms of the life expectancy of those affected (search of death records). The results showed that women who were diagnosed with abnormalities as a result of these tests had a lower chance of survival. Statistically, those who proved to have both capillary and antibody abnormalities in each of the studies had the shortest life expectancy. In men, the life expectancy was reduced – regardless of capillaries and antibodies.

As study director Oliver Schlager from the Division of Angiology explains, the result is nothing to worry about: “The statistical analysis merely shows that those affected by these anomalies should undergo check-ups more frequently than usual.”

Service: Circulation
Relation of Nailfold Capillaries and Autoantibodies to Mortality in Patients With Raynaud's Phenomenon.
Mueller M, Gschwandtner ME, Gamper J, Giurgea GA, Charwat-Resl S, Kiener HP, Smolen JS, Perkmann T, Koppensteiner R, Schlager O.