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Definition

What is cold hands and feet?

Having cold hands and feet even when you are not in a cold environment is common. Often, having cold hands and feet is a part of your body’s natural response to regulate your body temperature and shouldn’t be cause for concern.

But if you have persistently cold hands and feet, particularly if accompanied by color changes, it could be a warning sign. For example, having cold hands could mean you have a problem with the nerves or blood circulation or a problem with tissue damage in your hands or fingers. If you are outside in extreme cold weather and you have cold hands and feet, you should watch for warning signs of frostbite.

How common is cold hands and feet?

Homeless individuals, those who work outdoors, winter sport enthusiasts, and mountaineers are examples of those at risk. Living in a high attitude and being under the influence of alcohol also increase the risk.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of cold hands and feet?

Cold hands and feet can be as simple as being where it is cold. The body’s natural temperature can also cause cold hands and feet or cold hands and feet can be a result of real medical issues. Problems with blood circulation, small blood vessels in your hands or any number of other medical mysteries can cause of hands and feet.

When should I see my doctor?

Early diagnosis and treatment can stop this condition from worsening and prevent another medical emergency, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this condition.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes cold hands and feet?

Humans are tropical animals. We are adapted to a warm climate. When exposed to cold, the body tries to stay warm. If the body is cooling off, circulation decreases in the arms, legs, ears, and nose so that the rest of the core body can stay warm. When temperatures are below freezing, ice may form in these areas with less circulation.

  • Nonfreezing cold injuries are also caused by cooling of the skin. In immersion injuries, the nerves and blood vessels are damaged after exposure to cold, wet conditions at or above freezing temperatures.
  • Pernio is caused by exposure to cold for a long period of time without freezing or by very wet conditions.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon is an abnormal narrowing of the blood vessels that constrict with cooling of the fingers or toes.
  • Cryoglobulins are proteins, which are normally dissolved in the blood, that become solids or gels when cold. Cryoglobulinemia is the condition associated with cryoglobulins in the blood, whereby cold exposure leads to bluish discoloration of the fingers or toes.
  • The formation of hives in response to cold exposure of the skin is called cold urticarial

A list of diseases that cause cold hand and feet include:

  • Frostbite
  • Anemia
  • Diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Raynaud”s Disease
  • Scleroderma
  • Buerger”s Disease
  • Thyroid Disease
  • Poor circulation
  • Nervous system disorders

Risk factors

What increases my risk for cold hands and feet?

Many factors place you at risk for cold hands and feet.

  • Live in windy conditions
  • Wear tight-fitting clothing
  • Always keep hands and feet wet
  • Smoking (because it decreases the circulation to hands and feet)

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

 

How is cold hands and feet diagnosed?

Frostbite is diagnosed by the way it looks, not by tests. There are no specific tests for other conditions caused by cold, except blood tests for cryoglobulins. As with frostbite, testing may be needed for other injuries or conditions.

If there are other injuries such as hypothermia (below normal body temperature) or possible broken bones, tests may be needed for the other injuries.

If the frostbite seems severe, a bone scan may be necessary. This is a painless procedure that shows the doctor which areas of the hands or feet still have circulation.

Other tests often done for frostbite include blood tests, especially tests of the tendency of the blood to clot, and X-rays.

How is cold hands and feet treated?

If you come to the emergency department and still have any white areas of frostbite, the doctor will begin rapid rewarming in water that is slightly above body temperature. The frozen parts are thawed until they are pink, which shows that the circulation has returned.

If the warmed area is only a little red, you may be allowed to go home with instructions about how to protect the injured area. If you have only clear blisters that go to the ends of the fingers and toes along with swelling and some pain, you may also be allowed to return home with instructions. If you have dark blisters, no swelling, or no circulation in the warmed area, you will be hospitalized.

In either case, you may be asked to take aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil), which may protect against further injury to the area from substances that are released from damaged cells. You may also be given other medications to help the circulation of blood and to assure good nutrition.

If you are hospitalized, the injured areas will be wrapped most of the time and elevated. Twice a day they will be unwrapped and placed in a whirlpool to remove bacteria and dead cells that build up on the surface of the skin. If frostbite is severe, it may be necessary to remove some of the dead areas by amputation.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cold hands and feet?

These home remedies may help you reduce the risk of cold hands and feet, include:

  • Keep the area clean and dry
  • Elevate the area
  • Avoid refreezing
  • Protect the area from pressure or rubbing
  • The body part should not touch the side or bottom of the sink or bathtub.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: April 14, 2017 | Last Modified: April 14, 2017

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