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Cold Feet

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 08, 2020

Why Do I Have Cold Feet?

Cold feet may be your body’s normal response to temperature, but it can sometimes be related to a medical condition that needs treatment. Diseases from diabetes to anemia can affect the temperature of your feet.Cold feet may be your body’s normal response to temperature, but it can sometimes be related to a medical condition that needs treatment. Diseases from diabetes to anemia can affect the temperature of your feet.

Cold Feet Symptoms

Other symptoms that may come along with cold feet and signal a medical condition include:

  • Weakness and pain in your hands and feet
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Color changes to your skin when you’re cold or stressed
  • A numb feeling as you get warm or relieve stress

Cold Feet Causes

Complications of diabetes

If you have diabetes, you're at risk for a variety of problems that can affect your feet:

Peripheral neuropathy

This complication of diabetes damages the nerves in your feet. They may feel cold to you but normal when you touch them. People without diabetes can also get peripheral neuropathy. Some things that can cause it are injury, autoimmune diseases, alcoholism, lack of vitamins, bone marrow disorders, underactive thyroid, and medications.

Peripheral artery disease

This condition slows or blocks blood flow to your legs and feet. Poor circulation can make your feet cold. (It's possible to get peripheral artery disease without having diabetes. Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and age all raise your chances of getting the condition.)

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

Your thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, might be to blame for your cold feet. It makes hormones that affect almost all your organs. The hormones also help turn food and oxygen into energy. If you have an underactive thyroid, your thyroid doesn't release enough hormones. It could make you feel cold all over, including your feet.

Raynaud's disease or phenomenon 

Raynaud's causes your body to overreact to cold. When the temperature drops, your fingers and toes may feel numb and frozen. They sometimes even change colors, first pale and then blue. As they warm up, they may sting and turn red. Cold weather, air conditioning, and stress or anxiety can bring on these attacks.

If you have Raynaud's, you get problems with some of your arteries -- blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The arteries in your hands and feet spasm and narrow. This keeps blood from moving well to your fingers and toes and sometimes your nose, lips, ears, and nipples. Raynaud's is more common in cold climates and affects women more often than men. There are two types:

  • Primary Raynaud's (also called Raynaud's disease). This is the most common of the two types and also has milder symptoms.
  • Secondary Raynaud's (also called Raynaud's phenomenon or Raynaud's syndrome). It may be more serious and strikes at an older age. A number of different things, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, injuries, or carpal tunnel syndrome, can cause it. Medications, like beta-blockers for high blood pressure and some migraine drugs, could cause it, too.

If you have Raynaud's, call your doctor if you get sores on your fingers, toes, or other areas. Quick treatment can help prevent damage.

Anemia

Your cold feet could be a sign that you're anemic. That means your body doesn't have enough red blood cells, or they aren't healthy enough to do their job of taking oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.

See your doctor if you show signs of anemia, because it can be a symptom of another illness. Treatment depends on what type of anemia you have.

Buerger's disease

Buerger's disease is rare, but if you smoke or chew tobacco and your feet are cold, this condition may be the reason. The disease, linked to tobacco use, causes blood vessels in the hands and feet to swell. That slows blood flow and could form clots and cause infection.

See your doctor if you have any symptoms of Buerger's disease. It's more common in men than women, and in people under 45. The only cure for Buerger's is to stop using tobacco completely.

High cholesterol

If you have high cholesterol you may be at a higher risk of circulation problems, which lead to cold feet. Trouble with circulation (also called arterial disease) is the result of the build-up of cholesterol and inflammation in your blood vessels.

Stress

When you’re stressed, your body pushes blood toward your core and away from your hands and feet.

Cold Feet Diagnosis

Since there’s a wide range of causes of cold feet, it’s important to see a doctor. They’ll help to diagnose any possible underlying medical conditions and suggest treatments. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. They may also run tests to confirm or rule out medical problems that cause your cold feet.

Cold Feet Treatments

Whether or not a medical problem is causing your cold feet, there are some ways to warm up:

  • Put on socks or slippers
  • Stretch or move your feet
  • Stop smoking (nicotine makes it harder for blood to reach your hands and feet)
  • Lower your cholesterol through diet and medication
  • Lower your stress
  • Get more iron, vitamin B12, and folate to improve circulation
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Diabetes Association: "Foot Complications."

American Heart Association: "Peripheral Artery Disease and Diabetes," "Peripheral Artery Disease."

Mayo Clinic: "Peripheral neuropathy," "Raynaud's disease," "Anemia," "Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)," "Buerger's disease."

Cleveland Clinic: "Raynaud's Phenomenon," "Thyroid Disease."

American Society of Hematology: "Anemia."

Harvard Medical School: "The lowdown on thyroid slowdown."

Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center: "Buerger's Disease."

CDC: "Diabetes and You: Healthy Feet Matter!"

Harvard Health Publishing: “Causes of cold feet.”

LiveWell: “When Cold Hands and Feet Point to Larger Circulation Problems.”

Foot Health Facts: “Cold Feet.”

AARP: “Got Cold Feet?”

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