Do you have cold feet?

The phrase “cold feet” doesn’t just refer to getting nervous before a big event like your wedding. Some people quite literally have cold feet, which either feel cold to them, cold to the touch, or both.

Many people will experience cold feet at some point in their lives. Some causes are temporary and harmless, but others could indicate more serious health conditions.

What causes cold feet?

There are several different causes of cold feet. Sometimes, the simplest reason is a lack of warmth. If you’re in jeans and a t-shirt and your feet are bare, it makes sense that they may get cold first. However, there are other causes as well.

Poor circulation

This is one of the most common causes of cold feet. Poor circulation can make it difficult for enough warm blood to get to your feet regularly, keeping them cooler than the rest of your body.

Circulation problems can come as a result of a heart condition, where the heart struggles to pump blood through the body at a quick enough pace. Poor circulation can be the result of sitting too much from a sedentary lifestyle. If you sit at a desk all day for work, you may experience this. Smoking can also cause poor circulation.

Anemia

Anemia develops when you have a shortage of red blood cells. This is another common cause of cold feet, especially in severe cases of anemia. Iron-deficiency anemia can occur even in otherwise very healthy people. It can be treated relatively easily with changes in diet and by taking supplements.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Diabetes can cause not only feet that are cold to the touch, but also feet that feel cold due to nerve damage. Other symptoms may include numbness or tingling in the feet. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of nerve damage in the feet, see your doctor, and take extra care to check them for cuts or injuries.

Hypothyroidism

This condition occurs when the thyroid is underactive and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. This interferes with the body’s metabolism. Since metabolism controls both heartbeat and the body’s temperature, an underactive thyroid could contribute to reduced circulation and colder feet.

Other less common causes of cold feet include:

When should I see a doctor?

If you’ve noticed that you have cold feet, you can ask your doctor about it at your next physical.

Make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible if you experience cold feet and:

  • sores on your toes and fingers that are taking a long time to heal
  • fatigue
  • weight changes
  • fever
  • joint pain
  • any changes in your skin, such as a rash or skin thickening

You should also call your doctor right away if your feet feel cold but your skin doesn’t feel cold to the touch. This could be a symptom of a neurological condition.

How is the cause of cold feet diagnosed?

Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and look for signs of trauma or nerve damage by pressing on different areas on your feet. They’ll likely order blood work, which can check for conditions like anemia, diabetes, or hypothyroidism.

Your doctor may order an electrocardiogram, which will help them evaluate the functioning of your heart, if they suspect that heart disease or poor circulation is a cause. They may also conduct an ankle-brachial index text, where they measure the blood pressure in different limbs to see which ones are affected. If they find that peripheral artery disease may be a cause, they will order an ultrasound to look at the blood flow in your arteries.

How are conditions that cause cold feet treated?

Treatments will depend greatly on the underlying cause of your cold feet. In general, your doctor will likely recommend regular exercise to improve circulation. Exercise can also help treat or prevent other conditions, including heart conditions.

Some causes of cold feet, like hypothyroidism and anemia, can be treated with medications. Your doctor may prescribe calcium blockers, which can help open the blood vessels, for conditions like Raynaud’s or certain heart conditions.

Q:

Can pregnancy cause cold feet?

A:

It’s not unusual to have cold feet during pregnancy. This may be from several causes. During pregnancy, changes in hormone levels can affect the autonomic nervous system, which can affect the blood flow to the lower extremities. Additionally, a higher basal metabolic rate is present during pregnancy. Because of a slightly elevated temperature, the surrounding air may feel cool, especially in the lower extremities. Anemia during pregnancy is not typical and needs to be evaluated. Morning sickness with nausea and vomiting can put you into a negative nitrogen balance and make you feel cold. Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy, especially the thyroid hormones, can occur and cause underactive thyroid. This can also make you feel cold.

William Morrison, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

What is the outlook for conditions that cause cold feet?

Plenty of people will experience cold feet at some point in their lives, but if you think that your cold feet could be a symptom of something more serious than just needing a blanket, make an appointment with your doctor. They’ll be able to run some tests to make sure that you — and your feet — are healthy. And when in doubt, you can always do some cardio exercises or put on extra warm socks to warm your feet up immediately.