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Published on April 13, 2015

5 Causes of Cold Feet

April 13, 2015

warming feet with a coffee mug and wool socksIf you’re constantly trying to warm up frigid toes, your problem may be more than skin-deep.

Your thermostat is set to a comfortable 70 degrees and you’re wearing thick wool socks—but your feet are still frozen to the touch. The only thing that seems to warm them is taking a hot shower or sticking them in front of a space heater. Is this normal?

For those cursed with persistent cold feet, even moderate temperatures aren’t enough to keep their toes from feeling like icicles. Chronic cold feet isn’t a medical condition itself, but it can be a symptom of several underlying conditions, including:

  • Hypothyroidism. People with an underactive thyroid gland don’t produce enough thyroid hormone, which is responsible for helping the body use energy and stay warm. According to the American Thyroid Association, hypothyroidism doesn’t have any characteristic symptoms, though people with the disease often report cold feet and increased sensitivity to cold.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon. When it’s cold, your body conserves heat by contracting the vessels that supply blood to your skin. For people with Raynaud’s phenomenon, the body reacts more intensely to cold so that even mild temperatures can trigger cold skin. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease, Raynaud’s phenomenon is most common in women and people living in cold places. A less severe and much more common form of this phenomenon is known as vasospastic syndrome, which tends to cause cold feet only at night, when people are trying to fall asleep.
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD is caused by hardening of the arteries that supply blood to your extremities. Lower-extremity PAD can lead to achiness, burning, and muscle fatigue or pain in the leg. When you’re resting, your legs and feet may feel numb and the skin may turn pale and feel cold to the touch.
  • Diabetic neuropathy. Like with PAD, nerve damage from diabetes can cause the blood vessels in your lower extremities to narrow, which can cause cold feet. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, you may still have diabetic neuropathy. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is often not diagnosed until after complications such as neuropathy appear.
  • Poor circulation. Even if you don’t have PAD or neuropathy, your circulatory system may not be functioning at its prime. Sitting at a desk all day or leading a sedentary lifestyle can cause your peripheral arteries to constrict and decrease blood flow to your hands and feet. If you do have poor circulation, you may be on the fast track to more troubling conditions, such as PAD or heart disease.

PAD Pain? Walk It Off

Even simple exercises can be a challenge with PAD. People who have the disease experience leg pain primarily when they’re on their feet, which can lure them into inactivity. Ironically, walking promotes the generation of new blood vessels in the legs, making it the most effective treatment for PAD.

You can break free of this catch-22 by walking short distances. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends alternating walking and resting in intervals to increase the amount of time you can walk without experiencing PAD-related pain. According to the AHA, engaging in these simple walk-rest regimens three days a week can decrease PAD symptoms in as little as four weeks.

Having symptoms? Call your primary care physician today!


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