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Cold Intolerance Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

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Last updated April 14, 2022

Cold intolerance quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your cold intolerance.

Understand cold intolerance symptoms, including 6 causes & common questions.

Cold intolerance quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your cold intolerance.

Take cold intolerance quiz

Cold intolerance symptoms

Cold intolerance is unusual sensitivity to cold temperatures. Most people do not enjoy cold temperatures to begin with, but those experiencing cold intolerance find it even more difficult to achieve a comfortable body temperature regardless of the situation. Cold intolerance can signal an underlying problem that requires treatment.

Common characteristics of cold intolerance

If you're experiencing cold intolerance, it can likely be described by:

  • Cold regardless of external temperature: You may feel cold despite the weather and often feel cold even if others around you feel comfortable.
  • Cold only in specific parts of the body: Such as the hands or feet
  • Cold that does not resolve despite adding extra layers of clothing

Cold intolerance causes

Temperature regulation is controlled by different parts of the body. The hypothalamus, thyroid gland, body fat, blood vessels and skin all work closely together to control body temperature and adapt to various situations.

When there is dysregulation or imbalance in any of these systems, cold intolerance can occur. It is important to see your doctor and pinpoint the exact cause of your cold intolerance symptoms.

Central causes

Central causes of cold intolerance include dysregulation in brain processes that control body temperature. For example, the hypothalamus is a structure located in the brain that acts as the body's central thermometer for regulating body temperature. Disorders of the hypothalamus can cause cold intolerance.

Metabolic causes

The body relies on metabolic processes to maintain proper body temperature. There are many different metabolic processes in the body and the two below are most important for preventing cold intolerance.

  • Hormone synthesis: The thyroid gland is a very important organ in the regulation of temperature because it makes hormones that allow your body to burn calories and create heat and fuel. A malfunctioning thyroid or disorder that affects hormone synthesis can cause cold intolerance.
  • Fat synthesis: It may not be the most fun topic, but fat is necessary to maintain the heat your body creates. Any condition that significantly decreases your body fat can lead to cold intolerance because your body has no means of maintaining the heat it creates.

Hematologic causes

Hematologic causes are related to cold intolerance because blood and how it flows is important for spreading heat throughout your body.

  • Vascular disorders: Conditions that affect the blood vessels and cause constriction can prevent blood flow to parts of the body that leads to cold intolerance. The vessels in the hands and feet are particularly susceptible to such constriction.
  • Quantitative disorders: Any condition that affects the body's ability to produce red blood cells (the quantity of red blood cells) can lead to cold intolerance symptoms because your body does not have enough blood to reach the parts of the body.

6 possible cold intolerance conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced cold intolerance. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Thoracic outlet syndrome

The "thoracic outlet" is the space on either side of the base of the neck where nerves, arteries, and veins travel beneath the collarbone. If these become compressed or damaged, the condition is called thoracic outlet syndrome or TOS.

The most common causes are trauma, such as a car accident or fall; and repetition or overuse, such as a sports injury.

Symptoms vary depending on the structures being compressed:

  • Neurogenic TOS affects the nerves. It is the most common form and creates numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness in the arms, hand, and fingers.
  • Vascular TOS affects the arteries and veins. It creates the same symptoms as neurogenic TOS as well as cold, pale hands and arms with weak pulse.

It is important to see a medical provider about these symptoms so that the damage does not become permanent.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, imaging such as x-ray or ultrasound, and sometimes nerve conduction and blood flow studies.

Treatment involves physical therapy, pain relievers, and sometimes surgery.

Cold intolerance quiz

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Symptoms of menopause

Menopause, or "change of life," refers to the time when a woman no longer has menstrual cycles and can no longer bear children.

It is a normal occurrence and usual happens between ages 45 to 55. Menopause can be artificially induced by surgical removal of both ovaries, and by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy for cancer.

Symptoms usually begin many months before periods actually stop. There will be irregular periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, weight gain from slower metabolism, and dry skin.

If not treated, some symptoms may affect quality of life. Hot flashes and hormonal imbalances can disrupt sleep, sexual function, and emotional health.

At menopause, risks of heart disease, osteoporosis, and urinary incontinence increase. Because periods can become irregular while pregnancy is still possible, testing is advisable before any medical treatment is done.

Menopause is diagnosed when an entire year has gone by without the woman experiencing a menstrual period. Blood testing for hormone levels can confirm menopause.

Treatment can be done for any troublesome symptoms, including hormone replacement therapy to ease hot flashes.

Sheehan's syndrome

Sheehan's syndrome is a complication of excess blood loss or low pressure during delivery. It causes a decrease in necessary hormones.

You should visit your primary care physician to discuss your symptoms and treatment options.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, loss of appetite, irregular period, unintentional weight loss, hair loss

Symptoms that always occur with sheehan's syndrome: complications during pregnancy

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Raynaud phenomenon

Raynaud phenomenon, also called Secondary Raynaud syndrome, is a condition that causes small arteries in the skin to abnormally constrict on exposure to cold water or air. This limits blood flow to the hands, fingers, feet, toes, nose, and ears.

Secondary Raynaud syndrome is rare and is caused by another underlying medical condition, often a connective tissue disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or lupus.

Women are more likely than men to be affected, especially if living in cold climates. Family history and smoking are also risk factors.

Symptoms include the hands and feet becoming numb and cold. The skin color changes from pale to bluish, and then to red as the skin warms again.

If not treated, patients may get ulcerated sores or deformities of the fingers and toes, or even gangrene, due to the lack of circulation.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and blood tests.

Treatment includes medications to help increase circulation; treatment of any underlying conditions; and lifestyle changes to gain better protection for the extremities in cold conditions.

Postpartum thyroiditis

Postpartum thyroiditis means that an inflammation of the thyroid gland occurs just after childbirth. The thyroid, located in the neck, manufactures the hormone needed for proper metabolism. Thyroiditis causes it to first secrete too much thyroid hormone and then too little.

The cause is not known for certain. It may be an autoimmune condition similar to Hashimoto thyroiditis, where the body's own immune system interferes with normal functioning of the thyroid gland.

Most susceptible are women who also have type 1 diabetes or a family history of thyroid disease.

Symptoms may first include signs of an overactive thyroid, including nervousness, rapid heartbeat, and unintentional weight loss. Later signs are those of an underactive thyroid and include fatigue, sensitivity to cold, and weight gain.

Thyroid disorders can interfere with quality of life, but are easily treated by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through blood tests.

Treatment involves prescription medication for either the overactive or underactive thyroid, followed by regular monitoring and adjustment of medication.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depressed mood, racing heart beat

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial illness transmitted through the bite of the deer tick (black-legged tick) after it has been attached for at least 36-48 hours. These may be tiny, immature ticks that are difficult to see, often attaching in a place on the body where hair grows.

The disease does not spread through casual contact, either between humans or between humans and pets.

Early symptoms include fever, chills, headache, and body aches. There may be a rash around the tick bite, which sometimes enlarges to form a clear circle around the bite.

Later symptoms are severe with headaches, neck stiffness, further rashes, facial drooping (palsy,) and joint pain and swelling. This is a medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Untreated Lyme disease in a pregnant woman can lead to stillbirth, but antibiotics will usually prevent this.

Diagnosis is made through symptoms as well as a blood test.

Treatment consists of oral antibiotics in most cases, though severe cases may require IV antibiotics.

Lupus

Lupus, also called systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE, is an autoimmune disease. It causes the body's protective system to attack its own tissues the way it would normally attack an invading substance or microbe.

The disease can take different forms depending on what system or organ is being attacked.

Symptoms may come and go, and may be mild or temporarily flare up. They include a butterfly-shaped rash spreading from the bridge of the nose over both cheeks; fatigue; fever; joint pain; chest pain; mental confusion; sensitivity to sunlight; and Raynaud phenomenon, where fingers and toes turn white when exposed to cold.

There is no cure for lupus, though symptoms can be treated to improve quality of life.

Diagnosis is made through a combination of tests, since the signs of lupus vary greatly. Blood tests, urine tests, kidney and liver tests, and antibody testing will all be done.

Treatment involves some combination of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants, along with improved diet, sleep, and stress management to help strengthen the immune system.

Influenza

Influenza, or "flu," is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. It is spread through the air by coughing, sneezing, or even talking.

Anyone can get the flu, but those who are very young, over 65, and/or have pre-existing medical conditions are most at risk for complications.

Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, and extreme fatigue. The symptoms may appear very suddenly.

Flu can bring on secondary bacterial infections in the lungs or ears. Dehydration is a great concern because the patient rarely wants to eat or drink.

Diagnosis is usually made by symptoms. There are tests that use a swab taken from the nose or throat, but they are not always accurate or necessary.

Treatment consists mainly of good supportive care, which means providing the patient with rest, fluids, and pain-relieving medication such as ibuprofen. Do not give aspirin to children.

Antibiotics cannot help with the flu, since antibiotics only work against bacteria. There are anti-viral medications that a doctor may prescribe.

The best prevention is an annual flu shot.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, cough, muscle aches

Symptoms that never occur with influenza: headache resulting from a head injury

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, or "underactive thyroid," means that the thyroid gland in the neck does not produce enough of its hormones. This causes a slowing of the body's metabolism.

The condition can occur due to autoimmune disease; any surgery or radiation treatment to the thyroid gland; some medications; pregnancy; or consuming too much or too little iodine. It is often found among older women with a family history of the disease.

Common symptoms include fatigue, constantly feeling cold, weight gain, slow heart rate, and depression. If left untreated, these and other symptoms can worsen until they lead to very low blood pressure and body temperature, and even coma.

Diagnosis is made through a simple blood test.

Hypothyroidism is easily managed with daily oral medication. The patient usually starts feeling better after a couple of weeks and may even lose some extra weight. It's important for the patient to be monitored by a doctor and have routine blood testing so that the medication can be kept at the correct levels.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a set of chronic symptoms that include ongoing fatigue, diffuse tenderness to touch, musculoskeletal pain, and usually some degree of depression.

The cause is not known. When fibromyalgia appears, it is usually after a stressful physical or emotional event such as an automobile accident or a divorce. It may include a genetic component where the person experiences normal sensation as pain.

Almost 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Anyone with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more prone to fibromyalgia.

Poor sleep is often a symptom, along with foggy thinking, headaches, painful menstrual periods, and increased sensitivity to heat, cold, bright lights, and loud noises.

There is no standard test for fibromyalgia. The diagnosis is usually made when the above symptoms go on for three months or more with no apparent cause.

Fibromyalgia does not go away on its own but does not get worse, either.

Treatment involves easing symptoms and improving the patient's quality of life through pain medications, exercise, improved diet, and help with managing stressful situations.

Chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disease that causes unexplained fatigue that does not improve with rest.

While there is no cure, symptoms can be managed with medication & lifestyle changes.

Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa is a condition characterized by preoccupation with weight loss and intense fear of gaining weight. This leads to caloric restriction and weight loss. In its most severe form, this can even be life-threatening.

Patients with anorexia nervosa should see a primary care physician who will coordinate care with a psychologist, counselor, or other mental health professional.

Cold intolerance quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your cold intolerance.

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Cold intolerance treatments and relief

When to see a doctor for cold intolerance

Many people with cold intolerance symptoms often find that at-home remedies and suggestions, such as using a heater or wearing warmer clothes, do not work. This is because most causes of cold intolerance require professional evaluation and treatment.

Treatments for cold intolerance

Cold intolerance is a symptom of an underlying condition, and treatment depends on the cause. After determining the cause of your cold intolerance your doctor may suggest:

  • Hormone replacement: Hormones are key players in the regulation of body temperature. If your cold intolerance is due to hormone imbalance, your doctor will prescribe the appropriate hormone(s), such as thyroid replacement, to get your body back on track.
  • Medications to relax blood vessels: There are many kinds of medication that can combat constriction in your blood vessels by dilating (relaxing) them and promoting circulation.
  • Supplements: Deficiencies in iron and certain vitamins can lead to decreased blood production.Your doctor may prescribe supplements if your cold intolerance is caused by a condition that affects blood cell production in this manner.
  • Rehabilitation program: If your cold intolerance is related to conditions that cause significantly decreased body fat percentage, your doctor may suggest a rehabilitation program to help you gain weight safely and healthily.

FAQs about cold intolerance

Is dehydration causing my cold intolerance?

While severe dehydration may lead to cold, clammy extremities, mild to moderate dehydration generally will not contribute to cold intolerance. Your body is able to compensate for mild to moderate dehydration and maintain blood flow and adequate temperature quite effectively. Cold intolerance is usually due to other conditions such as hypothyroidism, severe illness, or circulatory problems.

Why is cold intolerance common with hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism occurs when you have low levels of thyroid hormone in your body, usually due to problems with your thyroid, a gland in your neck. Thyroid hormone is responsible for stimulating metabolism. Metabolism, in general, is the work done by your tissues to keep you alive and moving at a functional pace. Your body produces heat as a byproduct of metabolism. Thus, lower thyroid hormone leads to lower metabolism, which leads to less heat production and poor tolerance of the cold (other symptoms of hyypothyrodism include fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, thin hair, weakness, constipation, depression and joint pain).

Why am I always tired and cold?

Fatigue and cold intolerance are commonly associated with hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is when your body has low levels of the hormones made by your thyroid, a gland in your neck. Many diseases can cause your thyroid to function poorly and up to 2 percent of the population have hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is also associated with weight gain, constipation, dry skin, muscle aches, changes in your menstrual cycle, and a slow heart rate.

Why are my teeth sensitive to the cold?

Your teeth have nerves which can be irritated by cold temperature, especially ice. These nerves are hidden away in the deeper layers and roots of your teeth. When exposed, these nerves are set off by temperature changes. This may occur due to damage to the teeth from brushing too hard, teeth grinding, plaque build-up, acidic foods, vomiting. or trauma to the teeth. Diseases of the gums can also lead to tooth sensitivity, such as gum recession, and gingivitis.

Questions your doctor may ask about cold intolerance

  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Have you had any changes in your weight?
  • Do you have dry skin?
  • Are you having difficulty concentrating or thinking through daily activities?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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References

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