Got Cold Hands and Feet? Here Are 5 Reasons Why

It's hot, yet you have cold hands and feet. It’s an unusual condition with various causes. Should you be concerned? Find the answer here.

A close-up of a woman’s hands holding the soles of her feet

Having cold hands and feet can mean many things. Perhaps you’ve set your air-conditioning temperature too low, or you’re feeling nervous about something. Another possibility is that you’re sensitive to cold weather. If you live in a tropical country like Malaysia, your body may not be used to low temperatures. As a result, you can easily experience cold hands and feet during the rainy season.

What if the coldness in your hands and feet doesn’t fade, even if you’re staying in a place that’s hot and humid?  

Your condition is likely a result of an underlying problem. Early detection is crucial as it can prevent more serious illnesses. Read more about the possible causes of cold hands and feet, and what to do if you have it. 

Causes of Cold Hands and Feet

A woman sitting, wearing a sweater while holding her hand
Cold hands and feet are more prevalent in women.

Cold hands and feet happen to a lot of people around the world. According to a 2018 study based in South Korea, this condition is perceived as an “unremarkable symptom” in Western medicine. The same study also states that the exact cause is still unknown.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), hands and feet that turn cold can indicate disharmony in the body. Most of the time, a person with this condition also experiences other symptoms.

Several factors can contribute to your cold hands and feet, especially if it occurs suddenly and is persistent. 

1. Vasoconstriction response 

Vasoconstriction is when your muscles tighten your blood vessels, making them smaller. This is the human body’s normal response to cold weather, as it helps prevent heat loss from your core and vital organs to keep them warm. This can change the amount of blood flow to your hands and feet. 

Your limbs will feel cold when exposed to cooler temperatures than you’re used to. Iciness will subside once the temperature drops. 

2. Heritable trait 

There’s an indication that having cold hands and feet is brought about by your genes. Research published in Cambridge University Press finds that the feeling of cold in the limbs is hereditary. Living in the same house, eating the same food, and socio-economic status are influences that allow this condition to be “passed down” from one to another.

3. Yang Deficiency

A woman in a workout outfit exercising outdoors.
Doing low-impact exercises can help people with Yang Deficiency.

TCM is based on a couple of principles. One is the concept of yin and yang, the two opposite but complementary forces. Yin is cold, dark, and quiet, whereas yang is hot, bright, and active. The two must be in balance to create good health.

TCM also believes in six evils: Wind, Cold, Heat, Dryness, Dampness, and Fire. They’re environmental elements that penetrate the body and cause illnesses.

As the name suggests, cold hands and feet can be set off by too much External Cold. This happens when the coolness from the environment around you invades the body. If it stays in the body for a long time, the cold can eventually cause Yang Deficiency.

Consequently, you should be aware of internal Cold, too. It’s a by-product of having Yang Deficiency.

But how can you tell if your yang is deficient? This body constitution manifests in excessive fatigue, cold sensitivity, nasal congestion, non-stop sneezing, abdominal pain, menstrual cramps and blood clots (in women), and poor digestion.

If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms, the best next step is to consult with a certified TCM practitioner. They will diagnose you properly and prescribe herbal remedies or therapies to help you feel your best.

It’s important to be proactive as long-term Yang Deficiency can turn into Qi Deficiency (low vital energy), which can trigger Blood Deficiency. These three primary substances work together to operate the organs. Therefore, keeping yang sufficient is a vital process to avoiding diseases. 

4. Raynaud’s  

This disease affects the blood flow to some areas, mainly the fingers and toes. People with Raynaud’s Phenomenon may experience fingers and toes that change colours to white, blue, or red, followed by numbness. Other symptoms include tingling or prickling sensation and difficulty moving the affected areas.

Most of the time, symptoms appear when you’re cold, anxious or stressed. They would also go away by themselves after a few minutes or hours. There is no cure for Raynaud’s, but it’s highly manageable. Exercising, following a healthy diet, not smoking, and limiting caffeine intake can improve blood circulation.

5. Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) 

Fatty plaque build-up in the arteries is the leading cause of this condition. People over 50 years old are more likely to develop PAD. Other risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Aside from cold limbs, people with PAD may also feel pain in the legs, buttocks, hips, thighs, or calves. As the amount of oxygen and nutrients in the organs decreases, PAD can cause muscle weakness, hair loss, and weak pulses. 

How to Manage Cold Hands and Feet 

Despite the causes, there are things that you should avoid and habits that can benefit you. Practising these habits will help prevent internal Cold and stop external Cold from damaging your yang as well:  

  1. Reduce the consumption of raw and cold foods
  2. Try not to eat cold foods like salads, cold fruits, milk and overnight oats on an empty stomach
  3. Have warming foods or drinks, like mutton, leek, cinnamon, mugwort leaves, and jujube tea with ginger
  4. Soak your feet in warm water for 15 minutes. You can add mugwort leaves, ginger, or prickly ash to the bath for extra warmth
  5. Get enough rest
  6. Avoid prolonged sitting
  7. Putting on more layers when the weather is cold 

Getting cold hands and feet is not a quirk. It’s your body’s way of telling you to pay attention. Keep your eyes on any related symptoms. Should the condition persist together with other changes, seek consultation from a medical practitioner or qualified TCM physician for a diagnosis.

This is an adaptation of an article, “手脚冰凉,是真的寒气太盛?”, which first appeared on the Health 123 website.

References

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2018. The association between cold hypersensitivity in the hands and feet and chronic disease: results of a multicentre study.  [Accessed on 15 August 2022] 
  2. Cambridge University Press. 2012. Feeling of Cold Hands and Feet is a Highly Heritable Phenotype. [Accessed on 22 August 2022] 
  3. National Health Service. 2017. Raynaud’s. [Accessed on 15 August 2022] 
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD).[Accessed on 15 August 2022] 

Share this article on

Was This Article Useful to You?

Related Articles

A woman looking dazed while staring at a laptop; a clock showing 5 minutes to midnight on her desk.
Health & Balance

How Staying Up Late Affects Your Body

When you stay up late, you’re hurting your brain, heart, intestines, kidneys and liver. This article explores all the ways night owls might be affecting their health.

Read More

The contents of the All Things Health website are for informational and educational purposes only.
Our website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.