Cold Fingers and Toes

No matter how warm it is, some people always seem to suffer from chronically cold fingers and toes. However, the cause may be as simple as being in a frigid environment or your body's natural response in maintaining its normal temperature. Beside making people jump at your icy touch, cold extremities could signal a problem with your blood circulation, or the blood vessels in your fingers and toes.

10 Common Causes of Cold Fingers and Toes

1. Dehydration

If you’re not hydrated, your body is more sensitive to cold temperatures. This means less blood flow to your skin and extremities, leading to more rapid cooling of your body and possibly increases your susceptibility to frostbite.

However, if you’re well hydrated, water traps heat and releases it slowly, helping keep your body temperature in a more comfortable zone. Hydration warms people in other ways as well, it helps to power the body’s metabolism, because a low metabolism will translate into less produced body heat.

2. Poor Circulation

When the fingers and toes always feel icy but the rest of the body feels fine, then circulation problems may be keeping blood from flowing to your extremities. Cardiovascular disease could be the reason, it could be a blockage in the arteries that’s preventing blood from reaching your extremities, or that your heart is not pumping blood effectively. Smoking will also bring on poor circulation, because smoking constricts blood vessels.

3. B-12 Deficiency Anemia

Your body requires vitamin B-12 to ensure enough red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your system. Not getting enough can result in B-12-deficiency anemia (low red blood cell count) that can cause chronic coldness in the extremities. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may be the result of poor dieting; however, low levels may be caused by an absorption issue. This can cause tingling and numbness in your fingers and toes.

4. Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that may impair blood flow to the nerves. In diabetic neuropathy, nerve damage occurs in an ascending pattern. The first nerve fibers to malfunction are the ones that travel the furthest from the brain and the spinal cord, meaning the nerves that provide sensation to your fingers and toes. When this happens, you’ll experience numbness in the fingers and toes, and because the nerves are also responsible for sending messages to your brain relating to temperature sensation, they could feel cold.

5. Lupus

With lupus, your immune system creates auto-antibodies, which can sometimes attack and destroy healthy tissue. These auto-antibodies contribute to pain, inflammation, and damage in various parts of your body. Although lupus might affect almost any organ system, it typically affects only a few body parts. For example, one person with lupus may have swollen elbows and feet, while another person may have cold fingers and toes. Over time, other symptoms may develop.

6. Buerger's Disease

Buerger's disease, is a disease of the veins and arteries in both the arms and legs. With Buerger's disease, the swollen blood vessels become inflamed, and can be blocked with blood clots. Buerger's disease sometimes presents first in your fingers and toes, and could eventually expand to larger areas of your hands and feet. Quitting tobacco (all forms), is the only way to stop Buerger's disease. For people who do not quit, amputation of a limb sometimes becomes necessary.

7. Raynaud's Disease

Raynaud's disease can cause some areas of the body, like the fingers and toes, to feel numb and cold in response to stress, or cold temperatures. With Raynaud's disease, smaller arteries supplying blood to your skin will narrow, limiting the blood circulation to affected areas, and women are more susceptible than men to acquire Raynaud's disease. Treatment of Raynaud's disease may depend on its severity, and any other health conditions. Fortunately for many people, Raynaud's disease isn't debilitating, but it may affect their quality of life.

8. Scleroderma

A progressive disorder called limited scleroderma is a systemic disease because its effects could be widespread throughout your body. With scleroderma, the fingers in your hands become especially sensitive to cold, and the fingers and toes will remain cold and blueish after exposure to cold temperatures. This occurs in almost every case of scleroderma. It is caused by abnormal changes in smaller blood vessels, and these changes trigger the vessels to become narrow, causing blood flow to the fingers to become temporarily interrupted.

9. Thyroid Disease

Add cold fingers and toes to the list of problems you can blame on your thyroid. Continuously feeling cold is the hallmark of hypothyroidism, meaning your thyroid isn’t secreting enough thyroid hormones. Without the correct level of a thyroid hormone, the body’s metabolism slows, restricting your body’s abilities to generate heat. Other signs of hypothyroidism may include dry skin, fatigue, and thinning hair.

10. Frostbite

An injury to the body caused by freezing is called frostbite. Frostbite can cause a loss of color and feeling in afflicted areas. It mostly affects the fingers, or toes. However, the ears, nose, chin, and cheeks are also prone to frostbite. It may permanently damage your body, and in severe cases leads to amputation. A risk of frostbite increases in people with poor blood circulation, and those who are not dressed appropriately for extreme cold temperatures.

What Can You Do to Help?

If persistently cold fingers and toes are associated with changes in skin color, or are continual, you could have a problem with nerves or blood circulation. You may also be experiencing tissue damage in your hands or feet. In these cases, see a doctor immediately.

However, If you sometimes have cold fingers and toes, don't be alarmed. Several lifestyle changes can be beneficial:

  • Take care of your fingers and toes. Protect them from injury and avoid wearing constricting gloves, or shoes and socks.
  • Exercise regularly to increase circulation.
  • Dress appropriately when outdoors in the cold.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking causes blood vessels to constrict.
  • Avoid caffeine as it contributes to blood vessel narrowing.
  • Control stress levels. Stress can trigger an attack of Raynaud's.
  • Do not wear watches, rings, and bracelets that are too tight.
  • Do avoid using tools that vibrate the hands.
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