Have cold feet, but in the literal sense? It's wintertime and you may be dealing with chilly tootsies that require slippers on top of socks to stay warm. Or, perhaps you deal with cold feet year-round, and the nippy weather only deepens the chill.
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There are several things that may cause cold feet: Sometimes the case is benign (it's just your own body's physiology), while other times there may be underlying medical reasons that are important to get checked out.
If you're wondering why your feet are always cold, here's what may be behind the freeze.
You're More Sensitive to Cold Weather
Yes, this sounds entirely like a forehead-slapping response, but there's a pretty neat reason for it: "Cold feet can occur in winter when the body decreases blood flow to the area," Nicholas Pantaleo, MD, internist and family medicine physician at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, New York tells LIVESTRONG.com. "This is more common in colder months when the body tries to keep the rest of itself warm while decreasing heat loss through the feet."
Wearing extra-thick socks can help you fight the freeze in this case.
You Have a Nutrient Deficiency
Iron and B12 are two nutrients necessary for proper blood circulation. Iron is a component of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells responsible for ferrying oxygen in the body, while B12 is needed for red blood cell formation. A deficiency in either can contribute to cold feet, Dr. Pantaleo says. You may also notice numbness and tingling in the feet if you're lacking in B12, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Those at particular risk of running low on iron include people who are pregnant or who experience heavy periods, as well as those with GI diseases like celiac or ulcerative colitis, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). B12 deficiency is more likely in people with digestive diseases or who are vegetarians or are pregnant or lactating.
Talk to your doctor if you're in one of these groups, are following a restricted diet or have questions about taking supplements.
You Could Have a Circulatory Disease
If there's not enough blood flow getting to your feet, they may always feel cold. "Some diseases that can cause poor circulation include diabetes, obesity and Raynaud's, a condition that causes blood vessels to spasm," Dr. Pantaleo says.
One sign that there's a problem with your circulation: Your skin may change in color, he adds. For instance, in Raynaud's, fingers and toes can change to white or blue in response to this lack of blood flow, per the Arthritis Foundation. Treatment with medications like calcium channel blockers may be recommended to keep blood vessels open if you're diagnosed with Raynaud's.
You Might Have Nerve Damage
Poor blood sugar control can lead to nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy. You might also experience numbness and tingling, Dr. Pantaleo says. That's because these damaged nerves stop sending messages to certain parts of your body, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Diabetes statistics show that about half of people with the condition also have nerve damage. If you have diabetes, you'll want to work with your doctor to manage your blood sugar, Dr. Pantaleo says.
You May Have Thyroid Disease
One of the hallmark symptoms of an underactive thyroid (called hypothyroidism) is being intolerant to the cold — something that can make you feel as if your feet are perpetually chilly. Essentially, feeling frigid is a result of your body generally slowing down, notes the American Thyroid Association. Other symptoms include dry skin, forgetfulness, depression and constipation. If your doctor suspects a thyroid condition is causing your cold feet, they can order blood tests to check your thyroid function.
You're Taking a Beta-Blocker
Beta-blockers are prescribed in certain circumstances to treat high blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. These medications work by slowing down the heart. "When this occurs, it can affect the circulation in the body, especially to extremities like hands and feet," Dr. Pantaleo says.
Cold hands and feet, fatigue and weight gain are common side effects of beta-blockers. If these symptoms are bothersome, continue taking your medication as prescribed and talk to your doctor about other medication options or the best way to deal with this side effect.
You're Under Stress or Feeling Anxious
A couple of things happen when you're under stress or dealing with anxiety: The fight-or-flight response directs blood flow away from hands and feet and into vital organs (to help you flee, if necessary), per the Cleveland Clinic. You might also start to sweat, and this naturally cools down your body. While this isn't dangerous, it's certainly important to understand how your body reacts to stress and consider if you need to develop stress-management strategies that work better for you.
Smoking can make you prone to cold feet, Dr. Pantaleo says. Lighting up constricts blood vessels, which can cause toes (and fingers) to be generally cold.
Smoking is also linked to the development of a condition called Buerger's disease, which is where clots form in blood vessels that restrict blood flow to certain areas, according to the CDC. Tobacco irritates blood vessels, setting the stage for this inflammatory cascade. Hands and feet may feel cold, have a burning sensation, tingle or be painful. The only way to prevent or stop problems from Buerger's, such as tissue damage and pain, is to stop smoking.
How to Warm Up Cold Feet
Slippers are always a good idea, but there are things you can do beyond that to warm up your toes.
First, get active. "You can try moving your feet and legs back and forth to help recirculate blood in your extremities," Dr. Pantaleo says. You can also stimulate circulation by massaging your feet or clenching and unclenching your toes.
If these little tips don't help or the color of your feet or toes changes, Dr. Pantaleo suggests seeing your doctor.
Is This an Emergency?
- National Institutes of Health: “Iron”
- National Institutes of Health: “Vitamin B12”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful”
- Arthritis Foundation: “Raynaud’s Disease”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Diabetes and Nerve Damage”
- American Thyroid Association: “Hypothyroidism”
- Mayo Clinic: “Beta blockers”
- Cleveland Clinic: "What Happens to Your Body During the Fight or Flight Response?"
- CDC: "Smoking and Buerger's Disease"