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Cold Hands

Symptoms, Causes, Questions & Related Topics

Key Points

  • The article explores the four primary reasons for cold hands: exposure to cold temperatures, poor circulation, peripheral neuropathy, and frostbite.
  • Underlying medical conditions like diabetes, obesity, blood clots, and Raynaud's disease can lead to poor circulation, which in turn can result in cold hands.
  • Peripheral neuropathy, a common nerve damage among diabetics, can also cause cold hands.
  • Frostbite, a condition where the skin and tissue underneath freeze, is another cause of cold hands.
  • The article also discusses other health conditions related to cold hands, such as lupus, diabetes, anemia, Buerger’s disease, and atherosclerosis, and the questions a doctor might ask to diagnose the cause.

Top 4 Cold Hands Causes

1. Cold Temperatures

In cold temperatures, the body pulls warm blood from the extremities — including the hands — and draws it toward vital organs including the heart, lungs, and kidneys.[1] Experiencing cold hands when spending time in chilly temperatures is normal, regardless of whether you’re indoors or outdoors. Wearing mittens and gloves can help protect your hands from frostbite in cold temperatures.

2. Poor Circulation

Cold hands may be caused by poor blood flow and circulation, which can prevent blood from efficiently reaching the extremities. Poor circulation to the hands may be caused by underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, blood clots, and Raynaud’s disease. People who smoke may also experience cold hands due to poor circulation.[2] Quitting smoking and receiving treatment for medical conditions that cause poor circulation may help prevent cold hands.

3. Nerve Damage / Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that affects the feet, legs, arms, and hands. This nerve condition is highly prevalent among people who have diabetes, and causes symptoms including pain, burning, numbness, and weakness in the extremities.[3] People with peripheral neuropathy often have problems sensing temperature in their extremities, and may experience cold hands and feet as a result. Nerve damage caused by peripheral neuropathy may be treated using medications and physical therapy.

4. Frostbite

Frostbite is a condition in which the skin and underlying tissue freeze to cause infection and nerve damage. In severe cases of frostbite, infection and gangrene can lead to amputation of the affected area. Frostbite can form on the nose, cheeks, toes, and fingers and can produce symptoms that include numbness, cold skin followed by a prickling sensation, waxy-looking skin, clumsiness, skin discoloration, and blistering after skin has warmed.[4]

Frostbite can be caused by exposure to freezing weather and temperatures and by wearing clothing that isn’t warm enough for these conditions. Frostbite can also happen by coming into direct contact with ice, cold packs, cold liquids, and freezing metals.

Possible Health Conditions Related to Cold Hands

1. Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissue to damage joints, blood cells, and major organs, including the heart, lungs, and brain. Inflammation triggered by lupus can lead to anemia and blood clotting, each of which can reduce circulation and block blood flow to cause cold hands and fingers.[5]

Symptoms of lupus include fever, fatigue, joint pain and swelling, chest pain, headaches, and memory loss. Lupus can be caused by genetics, environment, infections, and certain medications, including antibiotics and antiseizure drugs.[6]

2. Diabetes

Diabetes affects how the body produces or responds to insulin. People who suffer from diabetes tend to have high blood sugar levels that can cause nerve damage throughout the body, a condition known as diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy most commonly affects nerves in the legs, feet, and toes, but can also happen in the hands and fingers.[7]

Common symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes include fatigue, blurred vision, increased thirst, and frequent urination. Type 1 diabetes may be caused by genetics and environmental factors, while common causes of type 2 diabetes include genetics, insulin resistance, and being overweight or obese.[8]

3. Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells to deliver adequate oxygen. People who suffer from anemia generally feel tired and weak and might experience symptoms that include irregular heartbeat, headache, chest pain, and cold hands and feet.[9]

Anemia may be caused by iron and vitamin deficiency, diseases such as cancer and HIV, and the body’s inability to produce enough red blood cells.[9] Poor blood flow and circulation triggered by anemia can cause cold hands.

4. Raynaud's Disease

Raynaud’s disease is a condition in which blood vessels in the extremities narrow and nearly shut down in response to stress and cold temperatures.[10] This can cause numbness and pain in the extremities. Fingers and toes can turn white and blue in succession, then flush red as blood flow returns to the affected area.

Common symptoms of Raynaud’s disease include cold hands, fingers, and toes and color fluctuations in the skin upon stress or exposure to cold temperatures. Raynaud’s disease is more common among people who live in cold climates and people who have jobs that cause repetitive trauma, such as using a jackhammer in construction work.[11] This disease is also common in those who already suffer from related diseases, such as lupus and scleroderma.

5. Buerger’s disease

Buerger’s disease is a rare condition in which blood vessels in the arms and legs become inflamed, swollen, and blocked with blood clots. This can damage skin tissue and lead to infection and gangrene, which could result in amputation of the affected limb.[12] Symptoms of Buerger’s disease include open sores on fingers and toes, cold hands and feet, and pain that comes and goes in limbs, toes, and fingers.

Nearly everyone diagnosed with Buerger’s disease smokes or uses tobacco.[13] Other risk factors for Buerger’s disease include long-term gum disease, being male, and being under the age of 45.

6. Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup on artery walls. This condition is marked by symptoms including fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, confusion, and cold hands. Healthy lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, eating heart-healthy foods, and quitting smoking can help treat and prevent atherosclerosis.[14] Severe cases of atherosclerosis may be treated using medications or surgery.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Cold Hands

  • What other symptoms do you experience at the same time as cold hands?
  • How often do you experience cold hands?
  • Do you suffer from any other medical conditions, such as lupus or diabetes?
  • What medications do you currently take?
  • Are your hands exposed to any cold liquids or chemicals at the workplace?
  • Do you frequently spend time outdoors in cold temperatures?
  • When did you start noticing cold hands?

Cold Hands May Also be Known as

  • Freezing hands
  • Chilly hands
  • Icy hands

Frequently asked questions

  • What are the main causes of cold hands?

    The main causes are exposure to cold temperatures, poor circulation, peripheral neuropathy, and frostbite.
  • How can underlying health conditions cause cold hands?

    Health conditions like diabetes, obesity, blood clots, and Raynaud's disease can cause poor circulation, preventing warm blood from reaching the extremities and resulting in cold hands.
  • What is peripheral neuropathy and how is it related to cold hands?

    Peripheral neuropathy is a type of nerve damage common among diabetics. It can cause a loss of feeling in the hands, which can make them feel cold.
  • Can frostbite cause cold hands?

    Yes, frostbite, a condition where the skin and tissue underneath freeze, can cause cold hands.
  • What other health conditions are related to cold hands?

    Other health conditions related to cold hands include lupus, diabetes, anemia, Buerger’s disease, and atherosclerosis.
  • What questions might a doctor ask to diagnose the cause of cold hands?

    A doctor might ask about other symptoms, the frequency of cold hands, any other medical conditions, medications being taken, and exposure to cold temperatures or chemicals.
  • Can medication affect the temperature of my hands?

    Yes, some medications can affect circulation and cause cold hands.
  • Can exposure to certain chemicals cause cold hands?

    Yes, exposure to certain chemicals can affect the nerves in your hands, leading to a sensation of coldness.

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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