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Why are my feet always cold? 8 medical conditions that may cause cold feet

INSIDER logoINSIDER 10/30/2020 insider@insider.com (Toketemu Ohwovoriole)
Wearing thick socks can help you manage chronically cold feet. Emilija Manevska/Getty Images © Emilija Manevska/Getty Images Wearing thick socks can help you manage chronically cold feet. Emilija Manevska/Getty Images
  • Chronically cold feet can be a sign of medical conditions like atherosclerosis, diabetes, Raynaud's disease, peripheral neuropathy, and anemia.
  • If you suspect you may have one of these conditions, you should check in with your doctor about the best way to manage it and get to the root cause of your cold feet. 
  • However, if you have ruled out these conditions, you can try to warm up your feet by exercising more, bundling up, and getting a massage. 
  • This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine
  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

Having cold feet is a common occurrence and in most cases, there is nothing to worry about. Cold feet are often caused by cold weather, and can easily be resolved by putting on an extra pair of socks. 

However, if you have chronically cold feet, they might be a symptom of an underlying problem. Here a couple of medical conditions that can cause cold feet and are worth getting checked out.  

Atherosclerosis 

Atherosclerosis is a condition that causes fatty deposits in your arteries and prevents adequate blood flow to your feet, causing poor circulation. When enough warm blood doesn't flow to your feet, it can cause cold feet.

"The arteries in your feet are the smallest which means they are most likely to be affected first. When these arteries are blocked, you could experience cold and sometimes painful feet," says Danielle DesPres, DPM, a Board Certified Foot & Ankle Surgeon & Podiatrist in NYC on faculty at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine.

According to DesPres, risk factors for atherosclerosis include: 

Diabetes 

There are a few reasons why diabetes can lead to perpetually cold feet:

Diabetic neuropathy: While diabetes itself might not cause cold feet, some people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes experience nerve damage, or neuropathy, in their feet. It's more common with people who have type 2 diabetes — 50% of people with type 2 diabetes might develop nerve damage, as opposed to 20% of people with type 1 diabetes. This nerve damage can disrupt the nerves that detect temperature in the feet, causing unpleasant sensations. 

Poor circulation: For people with type 2 diabetes, the condition can also cause cold feet because people with diabetes tend to have poor blood circulation in general. "Over time, the high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes can cause damage to the lining of your small blood vessels going to your feet, leading to narrowing and hardening of these vessels and reducing the blood flow to the feet. This then can cause cold feet," DesPres says.

Raynaud's disease

 

Raynaud's disease is a rare condition that causes the blood vessels in your hands and feet to narrow whenever you feel cold or stressed. 

When this happens, blood can't get to your hands and feet and you might notice them turn white or blue. Your hands and feet will also feel colder than they should be. If you have this condition, when your feet warm-up, you might notice them become redder.


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People who live in colder climates are more likely to have Raynaud's disease. It's also more common in women and people who have a family history of the condition. Raynaud's disease is not dangerous, but it can be irritating.

Peripheral neuropathy

In addition to diabetic neuropathy, peripheral neuropathy refers to any condition that causes nerve damage in your peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system consists of all the nerves in your body except those in your brain and spinal cord. It is responsible for sending signals from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body. 

Symptoms of this condition often appear in the feet first, and many people with it report experiencing cold feet. They might also feel tingling, burning, or prickling sensations in their feet. 

"When someone has neuropathy, the nerves are damaged and can cause feelings of numbness, icy-hot burning, and tingling in the feet. It is these abnormal sensations that can lead to someone feeling as though their feet are freezing because their nerves are producing abnormal sensation," says DesPres.

One of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. However, other risk factors include: 

  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • A family history of the condition 

Anemia

Anemia is a condition that causes your body to produce fewer red blood cells than normal. It's most commonly caused by an iron deficiency, since iron is a mineral essential for producing red blood cells.  

This condition can lead to a number of problems, including chronically cold feet. That's because a person with anemia has a reduced amount of red blood cells and hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen around the body.

"If your body doesn't produce enough hemoglobin it would be unable to produce enough oxygen-rich red blood cells to keep your feet warm. This is because the muscles and tissues in your feet aren't getting enough oxygen to work as effectively as they should," DesPres says.

Other causes of cold feet

Some other possible causes of cold feet include: 

  • Anxiety: When you are anxious, the body releases the hormone adrenaline. In addition to shifting your body into fight or flight mode, adrenaline also causes blood to get pulled away from less important body parts, like your hands and feet, to protect your major organs. This may cause your hands and feet to feel cold.
  • Hypothyroidism: "With this condition, the thyroid doesn't produce enough hormones to function properly. An underactive thyroid can lead to reduced circulation, decreased blood flow to the feet, and an overall feeling of cold feet," says DesPres.
  • Buerger's Disease: This condition causes your arteries and veins to become inflamed and blocked with blood clots. The exact cause of the condition is unknown, however research shows that tobacco use may irritate the linings of your arteries and veins, causing them to swell. It most commonly affects the hands and feet first, and this may lead to cold and numbness in the hands and feet. 

How to warm up for cold feet

If you suspect that your cold feet may be caused by any of the conditions above, it's worth checking in with a doctor to address the root cause and get the treatment you need. 

However, if your cold feet aren't brought on by any underlying medical conditions, here are a couple of home remedies you could try to help warm them up: 

  • Exercise regularly. This helps to improve your blood circulation and warm your feet up. 
  • Dress warmer. Simply getting thicker socks and making sure your feet are always covered up properly might be all you need. 
  • Foot massages. Massages can also help to improve circulation and get the blood flowing to warm up your feet. 
  • Quit smoking. Nicotine may also cause poor circulation, so quitting smoking or other tobacco products may help. 

Takeaways

Getting cold feet is very common, and in most cases isn't indicative of any disorder or condition. However, if you are experiencing cold feet more frequently than you think is normal, then you should speak to a doctor, who can help determine the cause and get you proper treatment. 

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