Symptoms A-Z

Cold Fingers Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your cold fingers symptoms, including 6 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 6 Possible Cold Fingers Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  6. Statistics
  7. References

Cold Fingers Symptoms

Having "cold fingers" does not simply mean that your hands feel chilly. The fingers may feel virtually frozen, with sharp pins-and-needles pain. There may be swelling and color changes as well, and the numbness that goes along with the cold can make it very hard to feel anything with your fingertips. [1,4]

This symptom is virtually always due to the veins and arteries tightening up and closing down. This constriction, or vasospasm, reduces circulation to the hands and fingers and makes them feel very cold and numb. [1,7]

Characteristics of cold fingers:

  • Feeling as though the fingers have been dipped in ice water. [8]
  • Numbness and tingling in the fingertips, also known as a pins-and-needles sensation. [4]
  • Pain, throbbing, and swelling in the hands and fingers. [4,5]
  • Joint pain in the hands, wrists, and fingers. [9]
  • Change of color in the fingers, from reddened to very pale to blue-white. [5]
  • Sore, broken skin at the fingertips. [4]
  • Weak or absent pulses at the elbows, wrists, and fingers. [4]

Who is most often affected by cold fingers symptoms?

  • Women under the age of 30. [5]
  • Anyone with a family history of similar circulatory conditions. [5]
  • Anyone taking certain medications for migraine headaches. [5]

When are cold fingers symptoms most likely to occur?

  • When surrounded by cold air, either indoors or outdoors. Even a cool draft, especially on the hands, may bring it about. [8]
  • During tense, stressful situations. [5]
  • During emotional upset. [5]

Are cold fingers serious?

  • Occasionally experiencing cold and mildly discolored fingers is probably not serious, as long as the fingers warm up and feel normal quickly once you are out of the cold. [1]
  • Fingers that are often painfully cold can certainly interfere with one's ability to work and with quality of life in general. [1]
  • If left untreated, very poor circulation can lead to tissue damage, tissue death, and gangrene. [1]

Cold Fingers Causes

An autoimmune disease of some type:

  • An autoimmune disease is one in which the body's defenses turn against itself. The nerves, cartilage, skin, joints, or other organs can be attacked as though they were invaders, causing illness and damage. [1]
  • Some autoimmune diseases cause inflammation of the veins and arteries. This inflammation interferes with circulation and causes long-term damage. [1]
  • Raynaud's Syndrome causes cold fingers when the arteries running to the extremities (including feet) spasm and reduce blood flow. Skin color changes are common. [1]

Other illnesses:

  • Any number of other illnesses can affect the circulation, especially those involving metabolic disturbances [2] or gradual organ failure. [3]
  • Tumors, cysts, and other growths in the arms, hands, and wrists can block the circulation and cause pain, numbness, and the sensation of cold in the fingers. [4]

Trauma:

  • An injury that has damaged the veins and arteries in the hand. [4]
  • A long history of using power tools that cause heavy vibration to the hands, since this can be damaging and disruptive to circulation in the hands, wrists, and fingers. [4]

Rare and unusual causes:

  • Severe emotional upset and/or very stressful situations. [5]
  • The condition of painful cold fingers may be idiopathic, which simply means that it happens to you for no clear reason. [6]

6 Possible Cold Fingers Conditions

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

Iron deficiency anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough iron to form hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.

The condition can be caused by acute blood loss through injury, surgery, or childbirth;chronic blood loss through an ulcer, overuse of aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or heavy menstrual periods; or impaired absorption of dietary iron due to low dietary iron intake, prior surgeries, disease, or interference from certain medications.

Symptoms of anemia may include fatigue, shortness of breath, and a rapid heartbeat. If not treated, iron deficiency anemia can lead to heart disease because the heart has to increase its pumping activity in order to compensate for the reduced oxygen carrying capacity of the red blood cells. In children, iron deficiency is also associated with developmental problems. The diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia is made through physical examination and blood tests.

Treatment includes a diet rich in iron-containing foods, such as red meat and leafy green vegetables, along with iron supplements. In some circumstances, hospitalization, blood transfusions, and/or intravenous iron therapy may be needed.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, heavy menstrual flow

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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

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.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: distal numbness, cold toe, cold fingers, spontaneous toe pain, spontaneous finger pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Cold Fingers Symptom Checker

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Mild frostbite of the upper limbs

Frostbite is tissue damage caused by exposure to the cold (at or below 32F or 0C). It is most commonly found in people doing leisurely activities like camping, hunting, or snow sports. It is also more likely in those who are intoxicated or have a mental disorder.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: hand numbness, hand pain, hand redness, cold hands, cold fingers

Symptoms that always occur with mild frostbite of the upper limbs: cold fingers

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Severe frostbite of the upper limbs

Frostbite is tissue damage caused by exposure to the cold (at or below 32F or 0C). It is most commonly found in people doing leisurely activities like camping, hunting, or snow sports. It is also more likely in those who are intoxicated or have a mental disorder.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: hand numbness, hand pain, swollen finger, hand redness, cold hands

Symptoms that always occur with severe frostbite of the upper limbs: cold fingers

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Frostnip of the upper limbs

Frostnip is damage of the outermost layers of the skin caused by exposure to the cold (at or below 32F or 0C). It is most commonly found in people doing leisurely activities like camping, hunting, or snow sports.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: hand numbness, hand pain, hand redness, cold hands, cold fingers

Symptoms that always occur with frostnip of the upper limbs: cold fingers

Urgency: In-person visit

Cold Fingers Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate cold fingers treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • You cannot detect a pulse in your hands or fingers, the hand is very numb and looks very white, and it feels cold to someone else's touch. [10]
  • The fingers begin to show open sores, especially if the sores appear blackened. [10]

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Treatment of the cold fingers, as well as treatment of any underlying illness that may be causing the condition. [1]
  • Discussion of getting physical therapy to improve circulation and help ease the symptoms. [11]
  • Discussion of your medications. If any of them tend to cause constriction of the veins and arteries, your medical provider may be able to substitute a different one. [12]
  • Discussion of counseling for help with stress management. [3]
  • Discussion of smoking cessation, because cigarette smoking causes constriction of the veins and arteries. [3]

Cold fingers remedies that you can try at home:

  • Stop smoking. Don't hesitate to ask your medical provider for help with this if you need it. [3]
  • Keep your body warm. If your core temperature drops, blood will be withdrawn first from the hands and feet and sent to vital internal organs such as the heart and lungs in order to keep them functioning. [13]
  • Wear fingerless gloves when indoors. They will still help keep the fingers warm, since the rest of the hand is warm, while allowing you to type or do other work. [15]
  • Try not to touch cold water, ice cubes, drinking glasses, or anything else that's cold. [1]
  • Look into comfort devices such as heated gloves. [14]
  • Make improvements in diet, sleep, and exercise, because this will help with overall health, circulation, and tolerance of stress. [11]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Cold Fingers

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Stress can cause changes in your body. Are you under a lot of stress?
  • Do you currently smoke?
  • Has anyone in your family been diagnosed with Raynaud Phenomenon?
  • Were you recently exposed to the freezing cold (under 32F or 0C)?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out why you're having cold fingers

Cold Fingers Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced cold fingers have also experienced:

  • 5% Hand Numbness
  • 4% Cold Toe
  • 3% Hand Tingling

People who have experienced cold fingers were most often matched with:

  • 42% Iron Deficiency Anemia
  • 42% Hypothyroidism
  • 14% Raynaud Phenomenon

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Cold Fingers Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Raynaud phenomenon symptoms & causes. Boston Childrens Hospital. Boston Childrens Hospital Link.
  2. Raynaud phenomenon. Scleroderma Foundation. Published March 2017. Scleroderma Foundation Link.
  3. About peripheral artery disease. Fairview Health Services. Published 2006. Fairview Health Services Link.
  4. Vascular disorders. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Published 2013. ASSH Link.
  5. Cold feet and fingers? Main Line Health. Published December 22, 2016. Main Line Health Link.
  6. Bayle O, Consoli SM, Baudin M, Vayssairat M, Fiessinger JN, Housset E. [Idiopathic and secondary Raynaud's phenomenon. A comparative psychosomatic approach]. Presse Med. 1990;19(16):741-5. NCBI Link.
  7. Raynaud phenomenon. Scleroderma Foundation. Published March 2017. Scleroderma Foundation Link.
  8. Cold fingers, cold toes? Could be Raynaud's. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published March 2009. Harvard Health Publishing Link.
  9. Myositis. ColumbiaDoctors. ColumbiaDoctors Link.
  10. Gangrene: Symptoms. NHS. Updated August 16, 2018. NHS Link.
  11. Falkowski G. 8 natural circulation boosters. MS Focus Magazine. Updated November 2016. MS Focus Magazine Link.
  12. Vorvick LJ. Vasoconstriction. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated December 6, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  13. Raynaud's phenomenon. Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Foundation Link.
  14. Curley RA. Heated gloves provide relief from hand pain, dysfunction in diffuse systemic sclerosis. The Rheumatologist. Published November 10, 2017. The Rheumatologist Link.
  15. 12% (natural silver thread) fingerless gloves. Autoimmune Resource & Research Centre. Published 2017. ARRC Link.