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Icy Hands and Feet? Here's What Causes Cold Extremities and How to Warm Them Up


November 2022


Cody Miller

Whether it's you, a friend or a family member, we all know someone whose hands or feet are always ice cold.

It might feel like a superpower in the summer heat—the ability to cool yourself down by putting your hand on your forehead or the back of your neck. However, icy extremities can signal serious health concerns. We're breaking down reasons why you may have cold extremities and when it's time to see your primary care doctor.

Poor Circulation

Your body temperature is in part regulated by blood circulating through your body, which in turn keeps your skin at a comfortable temperature. However, when the temperature drops outside, your body tells the brain to constrict your blood vessels and conserve warmth for areas closer to your inner organs. This process is called vasoconstriction and can be triggered by very small changes in temperature.

Smoking has been known to cause vasoconstriction and can cause cold hands and feet. Additionally, stress or anxiety can indirectly cause poor circulation.

Medical Conditions

There are a number of health conditions that can cause your hands and feet to feel cold:

- Anemia is when you have fewer red blood cells that carry oxygen to parts of your body. This can be caused by a deficiency in iron, vitamin B12 or chronic kidney disease. Moderate to severe cases of anemia can cause cold feet and should be diagnosed by a doctor. Anemia usually responds to changes in diet and supplements, but you should follow your doctor's treatment recommendations.

- Raynaud's Disease can cause fingers and toes, as well as nose and ears, to turn white or blue and go numb. You're more at risk of developing Raynaud's Disease if you live in colder climates, have a family history of the disease and are over 30 years old. Treatment may involve wearing extra layers or taking prescription medication that relaxes your blood vessels.

- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is when blood vessels carrying blood from your heart to the rest of your body begin narrowing due to plaque buildup. While this sometimes doesn't manifest as any symptoms, it can cause coldness in your hands and feet as well as pain and numbness in your legs. Additionally, any sores or wounds on your extremities may take longer than usual to heal due to a lack of blood flow. If you're experiencing these symptoms in addition to cold extremities, you should see your primary care provider to ask about getting tested for PAD.

- Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid gland, which affects your metabolism, isn't producing the proper amount of thyroid hormone. This affects your circulation, heartbeat and body temperature, making you more sensitive to the cold and could cause cold hands and feet. Other symptoms could include fatigue, weight gain and memory troubles. If you're experiencing these symptoms, you should consult your doctor.

- Nerve damage could also be to blame for cold hands and feet, and there are a number of things that could cause it. Experiences like certain physical trauma or injuries can damage your nerves. Additionally, conditions such as diabetes can cause nerve damage if you have a high blood sugar level for long periods of time.

Treating Cold Extremities

While your cold hands and feet may not seem like a serious issue for your health, you should consult your doctor if your symptoms persist or your cold extremities are accompanied by things like fatigue, changes in your weight, fever, joint pain or any changes to your skin.

If you're looking to simply warm up, here are a few simple tricks:

1. Movement is a simple way to activate your circulation. Try walking around periodically or doing jumping jacks if you find yourself sitting still and feeling cold.

2. Thick socks and slippers can help keep your feet warm while you're at home relaxing. This helps retain heat in your feet especially if you have hard floors.

3. Warm water can help relieve coldness in your hands and feet. Either wash your hands with warm water or give yourself a warm foot bath to improve your circulation.

4. Heating pads are a great way to keep your extremities warm especially if you have trouble sleeping due to the cold. If you don't have heating pads, you can also put warm water into water bottles and set them in areas where you feel a chill.

If your or someone you know has cold feet and hands regularly, it's important to keep an eye on whether or not any other symptoms develop. If you do see other symptoms develop, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss getting a diagnosis.

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