People living or working in cold environments often have cold hands.
The design of the human body is to regulate your body temperature, and having cold hands may mean the rest of your body is working to warm your core temperature.
If you are experiencing cold hands in warm environments, however, you may be having a problem with the blood circulating to your hands.
In this article, we’ll go over reasons that may be causing your hands to be cold. I’ll also talk about how your primary medical clinician may diagnose and treat your condition.
Lastly, I’ll discuss when it’s time to see your healthcare provider about your cold hands.
There are several reasons why your hands may be feeling cold, including the following.
Raynaud’s syndrome is when the blood vessels in the fingers, toes, ears, and nose constrict when they get cold. As a result, the affected areas will turn white, then blue, and will feel cold.
Sometimes, Raynaud’s syndrome occurs independently, while other times it’s related to another condition.
It may also be called Raynaud’s disease or Raynaud’s phenomenon.
The thyroid gland sits in your throat and is responsible for making and releasing hormones that control your body’s metabolism.
When thyroid hormone is low, symptoms can include feeling cold, weight gain, and fatigue, among others.
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is when plaque builds up, causing narrowing of the vessels that carry blood from your heart to your arms and legs.
It is much more common in the legs and rarely happens in the arms. However, when it does occur in the upper extremities, it can cause your arms and hands to feel colder than usual.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron deficiency anemia, the most common type of anemia, is when you don’t have enough iron, which you need to make red blood cells, in your body.
Without enough blood cells, people tend to feel cold, weak, tired, and they look pale.
Peripheral Neuropathy (nerve damage)
Neuropathy is when there is nerve damage.
Some sort of injury typically causes this damage.
The injury can be because of trauma, lack of correct nutrients, a breakdown of the nerve cells, and several other reasons.
This lack of sensation can lead to loss of feeling, weakness, and feeling cold.
Diabetes is one of the most common reasons for neuropathy, called diabetic neuropathy.
Having high sugar levels in your blood consistently causes damage to the nerves.
This damage leaves your nerves unable to communicate correctly with the body and can lead to a lack of sensation, weakness, and feeling cold.
Neuropathy is more commonly found in the feet but is also possible in the hands.
Poor circulation is not a condition in itself but results from several ailments.
Symptoms of poor circulation can include:
- Cold hands and feet
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- Difficulty with memory and concentration
- Skin color changes
Causes for poor circulation include atherosclerosis, diabetes, blood clot, being overweight, and smoking.
Your healthcare provider will first start with a physical exam, which includes going over your medical history and any current medications, vitamins, and supplements you are taking.
They will also ask you some questions about your symptoms, including when they started and their severity.
The clinician will check your vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and respiratory rate) and complete an overview of the systems.
They may also do a few nerve tests on you to see if there is a problem with your nervous system.
Blood tests check your risk for unhealthy cholesterol levels, triglycerides, diabetes, and inflammation.
Cold Stimulation Test
A cold stimulation test is a way to test for Raynaud’s syndrome.
To perform this test, you place your hands in an ice-cold water bath for 20 seconds while your medical clinician measures your skin’s temperature.
After removing your hands, your skin temperature is taken every five minutes for 20 minutes or until it returns to your normal temperature.
Nailfold capillaroscopy is a way to test blood circulation in the fingers.
After washing your hands, the clinician places a drop of oil on your nail bed. Then, using a small tool held over the drop, the clinician measures the blood flow in the capillaries of your nail beds.
The procedure takes about 15 to 30 minutes.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of your cold hands.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Raynaud’s syndrome, but you can do things to help prevent your hands from getting so cold, such as wearing mittens when handling cold items and when in cold weather.
Also, try and avoid sudden temperature changes.
Things you can do for overall circulation and blood sugar health include:
- Eat a healthy balanced diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Be physically active multiple times a week
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Learn to manage stress
- Stop smoking
- Get quality sleep
The types of medications your medical provider prescribes are based on the underlying condition. Thyroid medication can help manage low thyroid levels.
For a person with diabetes, medications to manage blood sugar helps reduce damage to nerve cells.
Anti-inflammatory medications sometimes decrease inflammation causing nerve damage.
For circulation issues, medications that manage your blood pressure or thin your blood can be helpful.
Sometimes, surgery on blood vessels is needed to help increase blood flow.
For example, if a blood vessel becomes clogged, a stent placed in the vessel will help resume normal blood flow.
When to See a Medical Provider
Make an appointment to see your primary medical clinician if your persistently cold hands are worrying you and if any of the following symptoms accompany them:
- Changes in skin color
- Thickening or tightening of the skin
- Throbbing, numbing, burning, or tingling sensations when blood flow returns
- Your nails changing in appearance
- Cracks or wounds on your fingers that are slow healing
- Pain in your hands and fingers
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Cold Hands. (2015).
Cold Stimulation Test. (2020).
Iron-Deficiency Anemia. (2022).
Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD). (2021).
Raynaud Phenomenon. (2021).
Tevacol, M., et al. (2015). Nailfold Capillaroscopy in Rheumatic Diseases: Which Parameters Should Be Evaluated?