Cold sensations to the feet can come from poor circulation, disorders of the nervous system, cold exposure injuries such as frostbite, and decreased metabolism from a low thyroid condition (hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid). Depending upon the cause of the symptoms, coldness in the feet can be accompanied by other symptoms, including pain, numbness, changes in skin color, or a pins and needles tingling sensation. Other diseases that can cause cold feet symptoms include diabetes, arteriosclerosis, peripheral vascular disease, Raynaud's phenomenon, and neuropathy of any cause.
In people with diabetes mellitus, chronic abnormally elevated blood and urine sugar, causes narrowing of arteries and capillaries that impair blood supply to tissues leading to cold feet symptoms. Arteriosclerosis and peripheral vascular disease result from chronic elevation of blood cholesterol levels that leads to blood vessel narrowing. Raynaud's phenomenon features narrowing of tiny blood vessels as a reaction to nerve sensitivity to cold exposure, which causes cold feet symptoms. Frostbite causes permanent damage to blood vessels that are injured from freezing of tissues.
Other causes of cold feetNext Article
Pictures, Images, Illustrations & Quizzes
Burning or Swollen Feet? What Foot Pain Says About Your Health
Foot pain and heel pain can be serious health problems. Discover information about cold feet, itchy feet, burning feet and...
Feet Facts Quiz: Test Your Medical IQ
Did you know that certain shoes and common diseases can wreak havoc on your feet? If you've been having problems with your feet,...
How Diabetes Can Affect Your Feet
Learn more about diabetes related foot problems. For people with diabetes, too much glucose in the blood can cause serious foot...
Picture of Foot
The end of the leg on which a person normally stands and walks. See a picture of Foot Anatomy and learn more about the health...
Picture of Foot Anatomy Detail
The end of the leg on which a person normally stands and walks. See a picture of Foot Anatomy Detail and learn more about the...
Causes of Cold Feet
Anemia is the condition of having less than the normal number of red blood cells or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. The oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is, therefore, decreased. There are several types of anemia such as iron deficiency anemia (the most common type), sickle cell anemia, vitamin B12 anemia, pernicious anemia, and aplastic anemia. Symptoms of anemia may include fatigue, malaise, hair loss, palpitations, menstruation, and medications. Treatment for anemia includes treating the underlying cause for the condition. Iron supplements, vitamin B12 injections, and certain medications may also be necessary.
Cold Agglutinin Disease
Cold agglutinin hemolytic anemia or cold agglutinin hemolytic disease, is rare disorder of the autoimmune system. There are two types of cold agglutinin disease, primary and secondary. Characteristics, symptoms, and signs of in cold agglutinin disease are premature destruction of red blood cells in the body’s natural defense antibodies. The lifespan of red blood cells is approximately 120 before the spleen destroys the antibodies. In cold agglutinin disease, the severity of the condition is determined by how long it takes for the red blood cells to survive, and at the rate that the bone marrow continues to produce more red cells. Immune hemolytic anemias are classified by the optimal temperature when the antibodies try to destroy red blood cells. Cold agglutinin anemia occurs at temperatures between 10 C (50 F) and 37 C (F 98.6) or above while the body warms antibody hemolytic anemia. Usually, cold agglutinin anemia becomes apparent between the ages of 50 to 60. Other symptoms of the disease include fatigue, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fingers and/or toes are cold and sweat, an uneven bluish or reddish discoloration of the toes, ankles, and wrists (Raynaud's syndrome), and fingers. Usually, cold agglutinin anemia affects people that are older. The disease is diagnosed by a physical exam, and the Coomb's test. If the red blood cells destruction seem to be slowing on its own, treatment therapies, usually, isn’t needed. Other treatments for cold agglutinin anemia are corticosteroids, and splenectomy (removal of the spleen). There is no cure for cold agglutinin disease.
Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)
Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. The two types of diabetes are referred to as type 1 (insulin dependent) and type 2 (non-insulin dependent). Symptoms of diabetes include increased urine output, thirst, hunger, and fatigue. Treatment of diabetes depends on the type.
There are two categories to cold weather-related injuries. 1) no freezing of body tissue (trench foot and chilblains), and 2) freezing of body tissues (frostbite). Chilblains in general, will not need medical attention (unless there is infection). Trench foot and frostbite, however, require medical attention. Symptoms of frostbite include pain, burning, numbness, and eventually a complete loss of sensation in the affected body part. The young, elderly, and patients with certain medical conditions (diabetes, hypothyroidism, circulatory problems, and psychiatric illnesses), are more susceptible to cold weather-related injuries. People who abuse alcohol and illicit drug user are also at risk for cold weather-related injuries.
Hyothermia or extreme exposure to cold can be classified as either accidental hypothermia (unintentional cold exposure) and intentional hypothermia (generally induced for a medical procedure). Hypothermia is caused by exposure to extremely cold temperatures. Risk factors for hypothermia include cold exposure and/or certain medical conditions. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering; increased heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure; apathy, confusion, slurred speech, no reflexes, and dilated pupils. Medical attention is generally necessary to treat hypothermia.
Hypothyroidism is any state in which thyroid hormone production is below normal. Normally, the rate of thyroid hormone production is controlled by the brain by the pituitary gland. Hypothyroidism is a very common condition and the symptoms of hypothyroidism are often subtle, but may include, constipation, memory loss, hair loss, and depression. There are a variety of causes of hypothyroidism, and treatment depends on the cause.
Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE)
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of body tissues caused by autoimmune disease. Lupus can cause disease of the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, joints, and nervous system. When only the skin is involved, the condition is called discoid lupus. When internal organs are involved, the condition is called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Peripheral Vascular Disease
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) refers to diseases of the blood vessels (arteries and veins) located outside the heart and brain. While there are many causes of peripheral vascular disease, doctors commonly use the term peripheral vascular disease to refer to peripheral artery disease (peripheral arterial disease, PAD), a condition that develops when the arteries that supply blood to the internal organs, arms, and legs become completely or partially blocked as a result of atherosclerosis. Peripheral artery disease symptoms include intermittent leg pain while walking, leg pain at rest, numbness in the legs or feet, and poor wound healing in the legs or feet. Treatment for peripheral artery disease include lifestyle measures, medication, angioplasty, and surgery.
Raynaud's phenomenon is characterized by a pale-blue-red sequence of color changes of the digits, most commonly after exposure to cold. Occurring as a result of spasm of blood vessels, the cause is unknown. Symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon depend on the severity, frequency, and duration of the blood vessel spasm. Treatments include protection of the digits, medications, and avoiding emotional stresses, smoking, cold temperature, and tools that vibrate the hands.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease of the connective tissue. It is characterized by the formation of scar tissue (fibrosis) in the skin and organs of the body, leading to thickness and firmness of involved areas. Scleroderma is also referred to as systemic sclerosis, and the cause is unknown. Treatment of scleroderma is directed toward the individual features that are most troubling to the patient.
Type 1 vs Type 2 Diabetes (Similarities and Differences)
Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic condition in which a person's blood sugar (glucose) levels are too high. Over 29.1 million children and adults in the US have diabetes. Of that, 8.1 million people have diabetes and don't even know it. Type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent, juvenile) is caused by a problem with insulin production by the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent) is caused by: Eating a lot of foods and drinking beverages with simple carbohydrates (pizza, white breads, pastas, cereals, pastries, etc.) and simple sugars (donuts, candy, etc.) Consuming too many products with artificial sweeteners (We found out that they are bad for us!) Lack of activity Exercise Stress Genetics While the signs and symptoms of both types of diabetes are the same, which include: Increased urination Increased hunger Increased thirst Unexplained weight loss. However, the treatments are different. Type 1 diabetes is insulin dependent, which means a person with this type of diabetes requires treatment with insulin. People with type 2 diabetes require medication, lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise.
Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter