Why Your Hands and Feet Are Always Cold and What To Do About It

Circulation may be to blame, but there are a few other reasons for chilly extremities.

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While poor circulation can reduce the temperature in your limbs, it is not the only reason your hands and feet feel cool. Here are a few other common causes.

Poor Circulation

Circulation plays an important role in regulating body temperature. Your skin is kept at a comfortable temperature by your blood vessels, which distribute oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. When the mercury drops outside, sensory receptors in your skin alert your brain to constrict vessels. When this happens, less blood travels to your skin in order to conserve warmth in the trunk of your body, where most of your organs are.

In some people, vasoconstriction, as this process is called, can be triggered by the slightest thermometer changes. A 2020 study published in Temperature confirmed that estrogen, a hormone involved in sexual and reproductive development, can lower body temperatures. But what if it's not estrogen that causes your hands and feet to feel cold?

Raynaud's Disease

A more severe cold sensitivity is a hallmark of Raynaud's disease, also called Raynaud's phenomenon or syndrome, in which extremities—usually just fingers and toes but sometimes nose and ears, too—may turn white or blue and go numb. Risk factors for developing Raynaud's include living in colder climates, being assigned female at birth, having a family history of the condition, and being over the age of 30.

Depending on how bad your symptoms are, treatment may range from wearing extra gloves and socks to taking prescription meds that relax blood vessels, according to the American College of Rheumatology.

Arterial Disease

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) occurs when the blood vessels, specifically the arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to your body, start narrowing due to plaque buildup, according to MedlinePlus. This process is called atherosclerosis.

Some people with PAD don't have any symptoms at all. Other people can have symptoms that include pain and numbness in the legs (especially when walking or climbing stairs), weak or absent pulses in the legs or feet, and sores or wounds on the lower extremities that take a long time to heal or don't at all. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms in addition to cold hands and feet, consult your healthcare professional to see about getting tested for this serious illness.

Smoking

It has long been known that smoking tobacco products results in vasoconstriction. This can cause the temperature in the parts of the body farthest from the heart, namely the fingers and toes, to drop. Smoking can also lead to a condition called Buerger's disease, which can likewise cause cold hands and feet, along with other symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are multiple online resources (like these CDC suggestions) to help you quit smoking. Don't let cold feet (and hands) stop you from kicking this habit.

High Cholesterol

High levels of cholesterol are related to inflammation, which can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, or atherosclerosis. As the arteries narrow, blood flow decreases, especially in the parts of the body farthest from the heart. With less than normal blood flow, hands and feet can start to feel cold.

Nerve Damage

Cold feet and hands can also be caused by neuropathy, the medical term for nerve damage, according to The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy. The nervous system is responsible for communicating messages or signals between your body and brain.

Damage to the sensory nerves in your peripheral nervous system, the nerves in your body outside of your brain and spinal cord that detect sensations like touch, temperature, and pain, can cause your brain to receive signals that the feet or hands are cold.

Diabetes

If you have diabetes or know someone who does, you may know that the condition can also cause neuropathy. Diabetes occurs when your body does not produce or properly use insulin, the hormone that helps control blood sugar (glucose).

Over time, high levels of glucose can damage nerves, resulting in problems sensing pain and temperature, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Other symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, excessive thirst and hunger, fatigue, unintentional weight loss, and headaches. Consult a healthcare professional if you think you may be experiencing these symptoms.

Hypothyroidism

Located at the base of your neck, the thyroid is a gland that is responsible for regulating several body functions, including temperature. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid doesn't produce enough hormones. While tingling, numbness, and cold sensations in hands and feet are some of the symptoms, others include weight gain, fatigue, constipation, and slow heart rate.

Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that is accompanied by several different symptoms, including vasoconstriction, especially in colder temperatures. Vasoconstriction in people with lupus may cause cold hands and feet.

Anemia

Anemia happens when a person's blood does not contain enough red blood cells, the cells that carry oxygen to the body. This lack of red blood cells causes poor blood circulation throughout the body. While there are several different causes of anemia, one of the most common is a lack of iron, or iron deficiency. Another is a lack of vitamin B-12, which is called vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia.

Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can set off a chain reaction of events in the body. While you have probably heard of the fight-or-flight response that stress and anxiety may induce, you may not know that the release of the stress hormone epinephrine can cause vasoconstriction in the arteries and skin, according to a 2015 article published in the World Journal of Cardiology. As a result, hands and feet may feel cold.

What To Do About Cold Hands and Feet

If cold hands and feet are interfering with your daily life, especially when accompanied by other symptoms, see your healthcare provider, who can perform tests and prescribe the right medication, supplements, or diet changes. But if cold hands are your only complaint, try warming them by staying hydrated, avoiding cold temperatures when possible, dressing warmly in layers, and increasing your activity levels (get up from your desk at least every hour, for instance).

A Quick Review

You may experience cold hands and feet for a number of reasons from diabetes to poor circulation or even stress. If your digits are constantly cold and you are concerned it may go beyond the temperature outside, reach out to your healthcare provider to further determine the cause of your cold toes and fingers.

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