Having cold hands and feet is a common ailment and it’s something that all of us have experienced at one time or another. However it is also an ailment that affects some of us more than others, and some of us will find ourselves constantly suffering from the cold in this way, leading us to question whether this is a normal and natural experience or whether something may in fact be wrong.
Happily for the majority of us this is just a passing irritation which can easily be rectified. The hands and feet are the ‘extremities’ of the body – they are the furthest from the heart which pumps blood around the body to keep it warm. Nearer the heart are the major organs of the body which we need to keep warm in order to stay healthy and prevent serious conditions, and thus the hands and feet are the first to get chilly. It also doesn’t help that they have the least fat on them (which is for the same reason) or that they are usually left exposed while we wear clothes over the rest of our body.
This then isn’t a problem. However if you are constantly getting this sensation then it may actually be a symptom of something more serious and this could require treatment. Here we will look at some of the other causes of cold hands and feet and will also examine some of the methods you can use to heat them back up whether the problem is chronic or acute.
This is a condition that causes occasional coldness in the extremities to the extent that it can cause mild pain. This is often worse in cold weather and will disappear on its own. This occurs because the blood vessels in the hands and feet constrict in the cold more than usual to the point where the blood does not reach the area. This is thought to affect roughly 2% of Americans and interestingly women are five times more likely to suffer from it. It typically has an early onset.
If you suspect you have Raynaud’s phenomenon then you should see a doctor. Generally they will just recommend management techniques as Raynaud’s phenomenon is not a serious condition. This may include such advice as bundling up or taking gloves out with you. However in some rare cases it can point to other conditions such as hypothyroidism so it’s important to get this checked.
Believe it or not simple anxiety and stress can cause cold hands and feet. This happens because stress can trigger changes to our breathing patterns. For instance it can cause hyperventilation – rapid breathing – and in turn this can prevent the body from getting the necessary oxygen preventing as many red blood cells making it around the body and to the extremities. Then there’s the fact that stress can cause you to produce adrenaline which increases the speed of the heart beat and this in turn affects blood flow too.
Of course the ability of the heart to pump blood around the body is of course related to its ability to heat the extremities. If your heart is failing to get as much blood around the body as it should then the first place this will be felt is in the hands and feet. As we reach old age we tend to have diminished circulatory function and this is why older people struggle more with cold extremities. This can also be caused by obesity, here the body struggles to get blood around the body because the body is too large and heavy. This is often a particular problem in the legs and this also leads to varicose veins in the area.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
In this disorder the median nerve which controls the fingers is compressed – often as a result of arthritis, swelling or the shape of the bone around the area. Other symptoms include the fingers ‘freezing’ and becoming rigid. You might for instance struggle to put down a toothbrush. Pain and numbness are also problems.
Damage to the nerves can cause you to feel tingling sensations in the extremities and often this will include coldness which is a result of the lack of feeling. It is important to address the cause of this problem if you are experiencing it as it can otherwise result in complete loss of sensation and movement and eventually necessitate amputation. There are many different causes of nerve damage, but chief culprits include diabetes where the nerves are damaged by excess sugar; or vitamin B12 deficiency/overdose. Coldness can also damage the nerves permanently and this is why it’s so important to make sure that you address acute instances of cold extremities.
This is a peripheral vascular disorder which is also called ‘thromboangiitis obliterans’. This will affect the small and medium sized arteries which are found in the hands and feet via an inflammatory reaction of the blood vessels and this in turn prevents normal circulation. Other symptoms include a bluing of the skin and pain. It is particularly common for smokers and for men between 20 and 40 in particular.
Cyanosis is a bluish coloring of the skin caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood. This in turn can be a result of anemia (low iron which is needed for the formation of oxygen carrying red blood cells) or breathing difficulties.
Of course cold hands and feet can simply be a result of exposure to the cold. If you are exposed to the cold for extended periods of time then this can result in hypothermia and then frostbite. This causes a redness and itching, followed by redness and swelling and then blisters. Eventually this can result in severe tissue and nerve damage.
Heart failure by any cause such as pulmonary edema will of course result in loss of blood flow leading again to cold hands and feet.
Smoking increases you chances of suffering from cold hands and feet. This is because it damages blood vessels and also reduces the amount of red blood cells (by filling the blood with more carbon dioxide). Thus smokers are more likely to suffer this sensation.
How to Warm Up Your Hands and Feet
If you are suffering from cold hands and feet no matter what the cause it it’s important to address this problem. Otherwise the coldness can result in damage to the nerves and tissue as it is starved of oxygen and nutrients – and apart from anything else it’s just unpleasant.
Of course insulating your hands can help so you should put them in your pockets, in gloves or try breathing on them heavily. What can also help though is to hold your hands low down by the sides of your body and then shake them vigorously. This will use gravity and the shaking in order to encourage blood flow to the area and this will heat them up. You should avoid wearing any tight clothing on your arms which could restrict blood flow – things like watches for instance should come off if you are suffering. Avoid touching anything unnecessarily cold.
Long term the best ways to improve your condition are to get lots of exercise and improve your circulation by increasing cardiovascular fitness. Likewise make sure to eat a well balanced diet and to get all the nutrients in your body. A high blood pressure caused by cholesterol etc can also cause this problem so make sure you eat lots of fiber and avoid saturated fats. If you smoke or drink then it’s important to quit.