The pathogenesis of primary Raynaud's phenomenon remains an enigma. Most evidence favors a local abnormality in the digital arteries as opposed to an increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system. The local fault may involve the alpha 2-adrenergic receptors, which are most important in reflex sympathetic vasoconstriction. Cooling blood vessels increase the sensitivity of alpha 2-adrenergic receptors, increased levels of alpha 2-adrenergic receptors are present in primary Raynaud's disease, and patients show an increased sensitivity to alpha 2-adrenergic receptor agonists on finger blood flow. Serotonin has also been implicated, but the evidence is not compelling. In secondary Raynaud's phenomenon, vasospastic attacks can often be explained by a low arterial distending pressure, a thickened vessel wall, or absence of beta-adrenergic receptor activity. Diagnosis of primary Raynaud's disease relies on a typical history and normal physical examination, laboratory studies, and nailfold capillaroscopy. Finger systolic blood pressures during local cooling with ischemia may be helpful to document vasospastic attacks but does not distinguish primary from secondary Raynaud's phenomenon. The treatment of Raynaud's phenomenon is usually conservative. Pavlovian conditioning or biofeedback may be beneficial. When drug therapy is necessary, the calcium channel entry blocker nifedipine or sympatholytic agents have been shown to decrease the frequency and duration of vasospastic attacks in about two thirds of patients, although subjective improvement does not usually correlate with objective testing. Direct-acting vasodilators have not been shown to be of definite benefit. New therapies include prostaglandins, captopril, and the serotonergic antagonist ketanserin. Surgical sympathectomy has not been beneficial.
- Copyright © 1991 by American Heart Association