Medical News Today: Causes and remedies for cold feet

Experiencing cold feet is normal from time to time. Changes in temperature, as well as health and lifestyle choices, are some of the most common causes of cold feet, and adjusting these factors will usually help relieve symptoms.

In this article, we look at these and several medical causes of cold feet. We also list home remedies people can try to keep the feet warm and comfortable.

Causes of cold feet

There can be a variety of reasons for cold feet, from winter temperatures to circulation and nerve disorders. Causes of cold feet include:

Cold temperatures

imprint of cold feet in shoe soles in the snow
Cold feet is common in cold temperatures. However, experiencing cold feet in normal or warm temperatures may be a sign of an underlying health problem.

Cold feet are one of the body’s normal reactions to colder temperatures. When the body enters a colder area, blood vessels in the extremities, such as the hands and feet, will constrict. This reduces the blood flow to these areas, which also reduces the amount of heat the body loses.

The extremities are the parts of the body furthest from the vital organs, so reducing blood flow to the extremities also helps keep warmth and blood flow in the more important body parts.

Over time this reduced blood flow can cause decreased oxygen in the tissues, which may cause them to take on a bluish color. When temporary, these symptoms are not usually serious, and the body will return to normal as it warms up again.

Some people have Raynaud’s phenomenon, where exposure to cold temperatures or high stress causes them to experience limited blood circulation, resulting in cold or numb fingers and toes.

High stress or anxiety

Being in a state of high stress or anxiety may also cause cold feet. One of the body’s natural responses to stress or nervousness is to pump adrenaline into the bloodstream.

As it circulates, adrenaline causes the blood vessels at the periphery to constrict, which decreases the flow of blood to the outermost areas of the body. This response reserves energy and prepares for any bodily harm that may happen, as a result of the high-stress situation.

The modern world is full of stressors, but not many of them put the body at immediate risk, so this protective response may be more harmful than helpful if it is making the feet or hands cold regularly. Reducing stress and tension may help reduce symptoms in these cases.

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Circulation issues

Person with thick winter socks on cold feet, perched on top of radiator heater.
Feet and hands are prone to feeling cold, as blood flow is restricted to the extremeties in cold temperatures.

Circulation issues are a very common cause of cold feet. A person with poor circulation will often struggle to get enough warm blood to their extremities, and may complain of cold hands and cold feet frequently.

Poor circulation can have a variety of causes. Living a sedentary lifestyle or sitting at a desk all day may reduce circulation to the legs and cause cold feet.

Smoking tobacco products can also make it more difficult for the blood to reach every area of the body, so people who smoke may be more likely to complain of cold feet.

High cholesterol can lead to plaques forming inside the arteries that can reduce circulation to the legs and feet, leading to cold feet.

Some heart conditions can also cause cold feet, so a person should speak to their doctor about any existing heart problems or risk factors.

Anemia

Anemia is a condition that occurs when a person has too few normal red blood cells in their body. This can be due to many factors, including deficiency in iron, vitamin B12, or folate, or chronic kidney disease.

Moderate to severe cases of anemia may cause cold feet. Anemia usually responds well to changes in diet and supplements.

It is best to have anemia diagnosed by a doctor and to follow their treatment recommendations.

Diabetes mellitus

People with diabetes may be at risk of circulation problems, such as cold feet or hands.

Frequent high blood sugar levels can lead to narrowing of the arteries and a reduced blood supply to the tissues, which may cause cold feet.

In some people, diabetes can lead to diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a form of nerve damage. Diabetic nerve damage typically happens in people who have an uncontrolled, high blood sugar level for long periods of time.

Other symptoms of diabetic nerve damage include tingling or prickling sensations, numbness, or burning pain in the feet and legs. Symptoms may be worse at night.

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Nerve disorders

Other nerve disorders may also be the cause of regular cold feet. Nerve damage may be caused by trauma or injury, such as severe frostbite, or may be due to an underlying medical condition.

Peripheral neuropathy may also be caused by liver or kidney disease, infection, or genetics. It usually causes additional symptoms, including numbness and tingling. Treating symptoms, such as cold feet, can help a person reduce their discomfort while waiting for a proper diagnosis.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is caused by an underactive thyroid gland, producing a low level of thyroid hormone, which has a negative impact on the body’s metabolism.

The body’s metabolism affects circulation, heartbeat, and body temperature, so anything that impacts on thyroid function and causes hypothyroidism can lead to cold feet.

People with hypothyroidism may be more sensitive to cold in general, and may experience other symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain, and memory problems.

Home remedies

Working directly with a doctor to diagnose any underlying cause of cold feet is the best way to prevent the symptom, as much as possible.

However, many home remedies can help warm the feet and keep a person comfortable.

Movement

Person tying laces on sports shows in the snow.
Regular movement, such as getting up from a sitting position periodically, may help to treat cold feet.

As simple as it seems, getting up and moving may be one of the easiest ways to warm the body and help blood flow to and from the feet.

People who experience cold feet due to their desk job may benefit from getting up periodically and walking around the office.

Getting blood circulating using cardioactivities, such as jogging or even doing jumping jacks, may be enough to keep the feet warm throughout the day.

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Socks and slippers

Warm, well-insulated socks are important for people with cold feet. While indoors, it may also help to wear well-insulated slippers, especially if a person does not have carpeted or heated floors.

Keeping the feet bundled up is a great way to help them stay warm and prevent any additional heat loss.

Foot baths

One of the quickest ways to relieve cold feet is to soak them in a warm footbath.

Filling a bathtub or basin with warm water and soaking the feet for 10 to 15 minutes may be enough to keep fresh blood circulating to the feet throughout the day. This may be especially helpful just before bed, as it can also relieve tension and relax the muscles.

People with diabetic nerve damage should avoid using hot water to warm the feet, as they may not be able to tell if the water is too hot or not. This can lead to accidental burns.

Heating pads or hot water bottles

For people who have trouble sleeping due to cold feet, placing a heating pad or hot water bottle at the foot of the bed can keep the area surrounding the feet warm at bedtime.

Heating pads may also be helpful to help soothe sore muscles after a long day of standing.


When to see a doctor

Although having occasional cold feet is normal, there are some instances when a visit to the doctor may be necessary. Anyone who experiences cold feet frequently or for no obvious reason should speak to their doctor about possible causes.

A person should also speak to a doctor if cold feet are accompanied by other symptoms, including:

  • fatigue
  • weight loss or gain
  • fever
  • significant joint pain
  • sores on the fingers or toes that take a long time to heal
  • skin changes, such as rashes, scales, or thick skin

If the feet feel cold internally, but the skin does not feel cold to the touch, a person should see a doctor, as this may be a sign of nerve damage or other neurological conditions.

Outlook

Getting cold feet from time to time is perfectly normal. Persistent symptoms may be something to discuss with a doctor, but treating the underlying cause should help the feet return a better temperature.

In the meantime, taking immediate steps, such as wearing thick socks or using a hot footbath, can help warm the feet up quickly.

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