Why Are My Feet Always so Cold?

I don’t wear fluffy slippers around the house because I consider myself fashionable, or even because I prefer the feeling of soft fluffy fur to be barefoot. I do this because my feet are always – I mean always – freezing. In the winter, I tuck insulation into my thickest socks and find that my feet are still cold, even with several layers of insulation.

My cold feet crisis protocol usually involves taking a hot shower to keep them warm, followed by immediate donning of warm socks and slippers. This may help, but not always. If you also suffer from persistent frostbite of your feet, there are several possible causes. Most are benign, while others require medical attention.

Raynaud’s disease is a common condition

If you are younger and relatively healthy (like me), cold extremities are usually a sign of Raynaud’s disease. It is a condition caused by narrowing of the arteries in the extremities, usually the fingers or toes. This constriction restricts blood flow to the affected area, and symptoms (frigid feet) usually occur from cold temperatures and stress.

Other symptoms include tingling, tingling, and intermittent numbness of the affected limbs, as well as discoloration. Mayo Clinic clarifies the condition:

During a Raynaud’s attack, the affected skin usually turns white at first. Then they often turn blue, freeze and numb. As you warm up and your blood circulation improves, the affected areas may redden, throb, tingle, or swell.

Although Raynaud’s disease most commonly affects the fingers and toes, it can also affect other parts of your body, such as your nose, lips, ears, and even your nipples. After a warm-up, it may take 15 minutes for normal blood flow to return to this area.

Usually, Raynaud’s is nothing to worry about, even if the common cold becomes an overwhelming problem. But in more rare cases, medical attention may be required.

Primary Raynaud versus Secondary Raynaud’s

There are two classes of diagnoses for this particular disease. Primary Raynaud’s disease is benign, and patients can usually manage symptoms on their own. Secondary Raynaud’s syndrome (also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon) is more severe and is usually caused by an underlying disorder.

As the Mayo Clinic notes , there are several conditions that present Raynaud’s disease as a simple symptom rather than as a separate disease, including connective tissue disorders, arterial disease, caroliosis, and repetitive stress trauma. It can also be caused by smoking, injuries to the hands and feet, and certain medications.

If you suspect that cold extremities may be a sign of a more serious underlying problem that has yet to be diagnosed, see your doctor right away.

Peripheral artery disease

Another cause of cold feet – from which an estimated 8.5 million Americans suffer according to Harvard Medical School – is peripheral artery disease, which is caused by fatty deposits that settle in narrowed arteries, restricting blood flow to the limbs. Studies have shown that obesity and age increase the likelihood of developing PAD .

Harvard Medical School notes that some of the symptoms of peripheral arterial disease are similar to those of Raynaud’s, but they quickly become much more serious:

One of the causes of poor circulation is atherosclerosis , in which the arteries are narrowed by fatty deposits and obstruct blood flow to the extremities. As a result, your feet may appear blue or purple when you are sitting, and pale or white when you are lying down. You may feel pain in your calves when you walk. Usually, a doctor can diagnose this condition ( peripheral arterial disease ) by checking the pulse in your legs.

However, there are even more serious conditions that cold extremities can indicate, such as “scleroderma, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis; or an underactive thyroid gland , “says the Cleveland Clinic. Again, if you are concerned that these circumstances may apply to you, see your doctor immediately.

What to do if you have mild Raynaud’s disease

Since benign primary Raynaud’s is just a handicap that registers as discomfort, doctors advise you not to take any drastic measures. According to J. Jay Bishop , MD , you can use several of the best practices he outlined for the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Keep your teeth toasty : Wear suitable shoes and wool socks (or multiple layers of socks) as needed.
  • Keep your hands warm: even simple changes, such as wearing mittens instead of gloves, can help.
  • Consider your core temperature: Wear multilayered clothing, especially thin, warm clothing, to maintain your core temperature.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine , which are vasoconstrictors that can worsen the effects of cold on the extremities.

Besides, there is no cure, so if you are like me, you will have to live with it. Aside from moving to Arizona, you may just need to be really good at dressing.


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