Hands & Feet Always Cold? 10 Causes (& What to Do)

Updated in September 2023

Always feeling cold hands and feet is a relatively common finding that can be completely expected, particularly during cold winter days, when the outside temperature is much lower. 

However, when this symptom is frequently felt, even when it is not cold outside, it can be a sign of a more serious health condition, like diabetes, poor circulation, hypothyroidism or even cardiac disease.

If you notice you always have cold hands and feet, or if it occurs in warm environments, to be assessed by a doctor to identify an underlying cause and initiate treatment.

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Why are my hands and feet cold?

The most common causes of cold hands and feet are: 

1. Cold temperature

Hands and feet can become cold when outdoor temperatures start to lower. When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, the blood vessels will contract to preserve circulation to major body tissues and organs. This can lead to less circulation to the hands and feet, as well as a decreased overall body temperature and pallor. 

Cold hands and feet are particularly felt in children, older adults, and people with a low muscle mass. 

What to do: You should use warm clothing, like jackets, gloves and socks, so that changes in temperature are not felt so intensely. Drinking warm beverages, moving the body, washing your hands and feet with warm water, and using hot water bottles are also easy solutions for keeping the extremities warm. 

2. Stress

Stress can trigger the release of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline into the blood, which constricts blood vessels and decreases blood circulation. These can all contribute to an increased blood pressure, which makes it more difficult for blood to reach the hands and feet. 

What to do: Exercise, like walking, swimming, riding a bike or dancing, helps to manage stress. It is also important to participate in pleasurable hobbies and to occupy yourself with other activities, like yoga or meditation. Intense stress that interferes with your daily routine should be assessed by a doctor, as serious cases may require medications, like anxiolytics, to help with management. 

Check out our home remedies for stress and anxiety made with soothing herbs that naturally relax nerves.

3. Smoking

Cigarettes trigger blood vessel contraction and promote the accumulation of fatty plaques along the arteries. These factors can make it more difficult for blood to circulate and reach the extremities like the hands and feet, making them feel colder. 

What to do: In these cases, you may find relief with smoking cessation. 

4. Poor circulation

Poor circulation is characterized by blood having difficulty flowing through the arteries or veins. It can contribute to the sensation of cold hands and feet. 

Patient’s may additionally experience other symptoms like swelling, tingling and dry skin in the hands and feet.

What to do: You are advised to drink plenty of water to ensure adequate hydration and to help with the elimination of any accumulated toxins. You should also walk at least 30 minutes every day to stimulate optimal circulation. If you have symptoms of poor circulation and feel discomfort, you should see a doctor for assessment and treatment. The doctor may prescribe medications to improve circulation or even diuretics. 

5. Anemia

Anemia is a blood disorder characterized by decreased red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen to all parts of the body. There are many types of anemia that can be diagnosed, but common symptoms are fatigue, weakness, headache, and pale skin or mucous membranes. Read more about anemia symptoms and how they can be treated.

More serious cases of anemia can cause symptoms like cold hands and feet, which may be a sign that the body’s mechanism to transport oxygen is not functioning well. 

What to do: If you notice symptoms of anemia, you should see a family doctor for assessment. The doctor may order bloodwork to evaluate your red blood cell and hemoglobin levels. Treatment for anemia depends on the type, however doctors will often recommend an iron-rich diet, with meat, organ meat, eggs, and vegetables like spinach and kale. 

Learn more about the anemia blood tests that your doctor may order to confirm a diagnosis. 

6. Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is disease that involves the accumulation of fatty plaques in the arteries. It causes narrow blood vessels and can make it more difficult for blood to flow freely and reach the extremities. 

In addition to cold hands and feet, atherosclerosis can cause high blood pressure and fatigue. The main contributors to atherosclerosis are tobacco and high cholesterol. 

What to do: People with atherosclerosis should be monitored regularly with bloodwork and for further complications. Atherosclerosis can be treated with prescription medications, like Statins, although a healthy, balanced diet is essential for long-term management. 

7. High blood pressure

High blood pressure is defined as a blood pressure value over 140/90mmHg. High blood pressure can make it more difficult for blood to circulate, leading to a reduced quantity of blood to the extremities. Learn more about the symptoms of high blood pressure to look out for.

What to do: You are advised to see a doctor to measure your blood pressure, to review your health history and to initiate treatment as necessary. Treatment for high blood pressure usually includes prescription anti-hypertensives. Patients are also advised to consume a healthy, low-salt diet, to exercise regularly, and to maintain an adequate weight. You should also avoid stressful situations when possible, alcohol and smoking cigarettes. 

Check out a list of natural home remedies for blood pressure that you can use to complement your medical treatment.

8. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid produces a reduced amount of thyroid hormones. This causes metabolism and the heart rate to slow down which can lead to cold hands and feet.

Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, cold intolerance, decreased concentration or memories, and weight gain. Learn more about common thyroid symptoms that may be a sign of a thyroid issue. 

What to do: Treatment should be monitored by an endocrinologist, and it usually involves medication that help to stimulate the thyroid. Hypothyroidism tends to be a chronic illness that requires life-long treatment. Read more about how hypothyroidism is diagnosed and treated.

9. Heart failure

Heart failure is a serious disease that is characterized by the heart’s inability to efficiently pump blood to the rest of the body. Without adequate amounts of blood, tissue is unable to receive sufficient nutrients and oxygen to function properly.

In addition to cold hands and feet, common symptoms of heart failure include fatigue, difficulty breathing. Increased heart rate, leg swelling and dizziness. See the other symptoms of heart disease that can occur, and assess your risk using our online quiz.

What to do: If you experience above symptoms of heart failure appear every day, it is important to seek medical treatment. Heart failure is diagnosed through bloodwork, an ECG, an echocardiogram and/or a chest x-ray. Treatment of this condition may include medication to reduce blood pressure (like lisinopril), heart medication (like digoxin) and diuretics (like furosemide). Patients are advised not to smoke, to exercise regularly and to maintain a healthy diet as directed by a doctor. 

10. Diabetes

Diabetes is an disease characterized by increase blood sugar levels, which can cause narrowing of the arteries and poor circulation. Some patients may experience reduced blood flow to the extremities, leading to cold hands and feet. 

Symptoms of diabetes depend on the type that is diagnosed, however the most common symptoms include difficulty concentrating, palpitations, pale skin, frequent urination, thirst, constant hunger and fatigue.

What to do: If you notice symptoms of diabetes, you should see a doctor to confirm a diagnosis and initiate treatment. Treatment depends on the type of diabetes, but it can include oral anti-diabetic medication or insulin. Patients are also advised to maintain a healthy diet as directed by a registered dietitian and to avoid sweets. See which diabetic medications are most frequently prescribed for the management of this condition.

Can cold hands and feet be a sign of COVID? 

No. Although there have been reports of changes to fingers, particularly toes, from COVID-19, there is no relation between the virus and a decreased local temperature. On the contrary, it is possible for the extremities to actually become warmer due to local inflammation, in addition to skin color changes (like the fingers turning red or purple). 

The phenomena is referred to as “COVID fingers” and is most experienced by children and adolescents. Some patients may also notice blisters, skin dryness, itching and intense pain. 

When to see a doctor

It is important to see a doctor if you have cold hands and feet as well as symptoms like: 

  • White fingertips or toe tips 
  • Purple lips, fingertips or lips 
  • Swelling in the legs and feet
  • Tingling in the extremities
  • Calf pain when walking
  • Sensation of fainting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Frequent fatigue 

It is important monitor for these symptoms so that they can be reported to the doctor and to prevent further complications. Following assessment of your symptoms and health history, the doctor may order further testing, like blood work, an ECG or other tests to make a more thorough evaluation. 

You should tell your doctor if you have a family history of cardiac failure, poor circulation, hypothyroidism or diabetes, as these can be genetically passed down.