Understand cold intolerance symptoms, including 6 causes & common questions.
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:
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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 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.
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 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.
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.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Lupus is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that happens when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells, tissues, and organs. Lupus is also a systemic disease and can affect multiple body systems including the heart, lungs, joints and even skin.
Since lupus can affect multiple organ systems, symptoms can..
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.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depressed mood, racing heart beat
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder. Anorexia usually affects adolescents or adults. While weight loss is the primary feature of anorexia, this condition can affect many organ systems throughout the body
Sheehan's syndrome is a complication of excess blood loss or low pressure during delivery. It causes a decrease in necessary hormones.
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
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.
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
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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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- El-Shafie KT. Clinical Presentation of Hypothyroidism. Journal of Family & Community Medicine. 2003;10(1):55-58. NCBI Link
- Brown FE, Jobe JB, Hamlet M, Rubright A. Induced Vasodilation in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Digital Cold Intolerance. The Journal of Hand Surgery. 1986;11(3):382-387. NCBI Link