Read below about cold hands, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your cold hands from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Cold Hands Symptoms

Cold hands are uncomfortable both to you and to anyone they touch, but are they really anything to worry about? Sometimes those constantly cold hands can be a sign of illness. But most often, cold hands simply mean that your inner body has gotten a little too cool and your "core temperature" has dropped a little too low.

To protect your vital organs, such as your heart and lungs, your body diverts more blood flow to them – and that leaves less blood circulating to your hands and feet. The term "cold hands, warm heart" is quite literally true. [8]

Characteristics of cold hands:

  • Your hands feel cold, like "blocks of ice." [8]
  • You might feel numbness, tingling, or pins-and-needles. [4]
  • Hands color ranges from red to purple-blue to pale white. [4]
  • Someone who touches your hand feels that it is cool or cold. [11]

Duration of cold hands symptoms:

  • This can last a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, or longer. [13]
  • Sometimes the cold feeling never really goes away. [13]
  • Your hands might warm up in warm environments but go right back to feeling cold again with exposure to cold air or water. [13]

Who is most often affected by cold hands?

  • Older people. [11]
  • Anyone living or working in cold conditions.[13]
  • Anyone with poor circulation. [13]
  • Diabetics or others with peripheral nerve disease. [8]

Where in the world are symptoms of cold hands most common?

  • Cold climates produce the coldest hands, of course. [13]

When are symptoms of cold hands most likely to occur?

  • Your cold hands symptoms may increase when you sit or lie down. [13]
  • Winter weather can cause cold hands. [13]

Are cold hands serious?

  • Cold hands may point to a serious problem if the circulation in them is truly impaired or you have a nerve condition that's causing the problem. [13]
  • Cold hands are rarely serious in a younger person with no other illnesses. [13]

Cold Hands Causes Overview

Many conditions have cold hands as a symptom. Most concern circulation and blood flow, [1] although thyroid, [2] infectious, [3] and physiological factors [2] can be involved.

Circulatory causes of cold hands:

  • Poor circulation is the most common cause of cold hands. It limits the amount of blood – and therefore heat – flowing through your veins and arteries. [1]
  • Hardening of the arteries clogs your blood vessels over time. [4]
  • Smoking makes your blood vessels constrict. [4]
  • Cold weather causes your blood vessels to constrict. [4]
  • Feeling chilled or nervous can cause your blood vessels to suddenly tighten. Your cold hands may appear red, purple, or pale white. [4]
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome can occlude the blood vessels to your arms – this is very rare. [5]

Hormonal and deficiency causes of cold hands:

  • Thyroid imbalances – too much or too little thyroid hormone – interfere with metabolism. [2]
  • Megaloblastic anemia, which is a shortage of healthy red blood cells from Vitamin B 12 deficiency, can cause cold feet that often also burn. [6]

Nervous system causes of cold hands:

  • Peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage, causes numbness and tingling in your hands which you may interpret as cold. [7]
  • Panic disorder sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, diverting blood to your internal organs and out of your hands – leaving them cold. [8]
  • Anxiety and nervousness cause both sweating and constriction of your blood vessels, which is why your hands may feel both cold and clammy. [8]

Infectious causes of cold hands:

  • Any viral or bacterial infection may cause fever, which is part of fighting the infection. Cold hands result because your body redirects blood to vital organs. [9]
  • Mononucleosis can lead to peripheral neuropathy. [10]
  • Meningitis may have symptoms of both fever and cold hands. [9]

Physiological causes of cold hands:

  • Low body fat will make your body divert more blood flow to your vital organs. [11]
  • Sometimes having cold hands is simply normal and a trait that runs in families. [12]

We've listed some specific conditions that can cause cold hands, along with how to identify each of them:

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Cold Hands

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced cold hands. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Iron Deficiency Anemia

    Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells, which deliver oxygen. Iron deficiency anemia occurs when the body does not have enough iron. Iron helps make red blood cells.

    Resolves with treatment

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, heavy menstrual flow
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Raynaud Phenomenon

    Primary Raynaud phenomenon is a disorder of the blood vessels, usually in the fingers and toes, which causes the blood vessels to narrow when feeling cold or stressed. When this happens, blood can't get to the surface of the skin and the affected areas turn white and blue.

    This condition is considered irreversible, but it should not prevent you from living a healthy life.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    distal numbness, cold toe, cold fingers, spontaneous toe pain, spontaneous finger pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Cold Hands Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having cold hands.

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  3. 3.Hypothyroidism

    Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped organ inside the neck, no longer produces adequate levels of hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential for many bodily functions including breathing, heart rate, and metabolism.

    Most cases of hypothyroidism require lifelong hormone replacement therapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.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.

    It takes 1-3 months to assess the damage, at which time, surgery might be needed.

    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
  5. 5.Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

    Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is the compression of the nerves and/or blood vessels that run through the upper chest. It can occur as a result of trauma, surgery, growths in the body, or just randomly.

    Resolves with treatment (30% relapse)

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, arm weakness, arm numbness, pain in one shoulder blade
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Cold Hands Treatments and Relief

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

  • You have cold hands and feet and you also have fever. This can be a sign of a serious infection or circulatory issue. [9]
  • There is severe pain with pale, numb, hardened skin. This can mean frostbite, which is actual freezing of the tissue of your hands. [11]

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Ongoing fatigue and constantly feeling cold. [6]
  • Chronically cold hands with numbness and tingling. [6]
  • Constant feelings of anxiety and even panic. [8]
  • Uncomfortably cold hands which change color from white to purple to red. [13]

Remedies that you can do at home for cold hands:

  • When outside, silk or cotton gloves can be layered beneath wool mittens. [13]
  • When indoors, fingerless gloves will help keep your hands warm while still leaving your fingers free for work. [1]
  • Warm hats and socks preserve body heat. [13]
  • Exercise and hand massage can help improve circulation in your hands. [13]
  • Stop smoking. [13]
  • Drink warm beverages in the winter. [14]

FAQs About Cold Hands

Here are some frequently asked questions about cold hands.

What causes cold hands?

Cold hands are usually caused by reduced blood supply to the hands. This can be the result of blockage or constriction of our blood vessels in the hands. This occurs when an individual is in a cold environment and the body must conserve heat. It does this by diverting blood from the hands to more essential organs like the heart, lungs, brain, and intestines. [8]

What causes poor circulation in the hands?

Cold exposure is a common cause. [11] It can also be a symptom of certain autoimmune diseases, [13] blood disorders, [8] or hypothyroid disease. [8] Exposure to certain drugs or environmental factors; [13] emotional stress; [14] and damage to the vascular system of the hands can also cause poor circulation in the hands. [13] Smoking is an important risk factor for poor circulation. [13]

How to improve circulation in the hands?

Try not to let your body get cold too quickly and/or change temperatures too quickly. [14] Keep your whole body warm. [14] Don't smoke — smoking can make your symptoms worse. [13] Avoid medicines that cause blood vessels to become narrow, such as cold medicines or diet pills. [13]Use gloves, or better yet mittens, in very cold temperatures. [13] Try to relax and reduce the stress in your life. [13]

Can cold hands be a sign of anemia?

Yes. Anemia is caused by loss and/or impaired production of red blood cells. Blood loss and impaired production of red blood cells can both compromise blood flow to your hands, making your hands cold. If your body is producing limited quantities of blood, it may first divert blood from extremities (e.g. hands and feet) in an attempt to conserve blood for vital organs (e.g heart, lungs, intestines). [8]

When should you see a doctor for cold hands?

See a doctor if the problem persists, or you start to develop lasting blue discoloration, pain or open sores on your fingers. [8,13] Additional symptoms, such as joint pain, [9] muscle pain, [3] fever, [9] weakness, [5] weight loss, [15] dry eyes, [11] dry mouth, [9] rash, [9] arthritis, [13] or problems with heart or lungs, [13] might indicate underlying medical conditions that warrant medical attention as well.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Cold Hands

  • Q.Has any part of your body become paler than normal?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Have you been experiencing dizziness?
  • Q.Were you recently exposed to the freezing cold (under 32F or 0C)?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our cold hands symptom checker to find out more.

Cold Hands Quiz

Cold Hands Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced cold hands have also experienced:

    • 10% Cold Feet
    • 4% Fatigue
    • 2% Headache
  • People who have experienced cold hands 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”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having cold hands

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References

  1. Cold Hands. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. ASSH Link.
  2. Do You Need a Thyroid Test? Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published October 2015. Harvard Health Publishing Link.
  3. When Cold Hands and Feet Point to Larger Circulation Problems. LiveWell with UnityPoint Health. UnityHealth Link.
  4. Vascular Disorders. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. ASSH Link.
  5. Mancini MC. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Allina Health. Updated November 11, 2016. Allina Health Link.
  6. Pernicious Anemia. Rush University Medical Center. Rush Link.
  7. Bae KH, Go HY, Park KH, Ahn I, Yoon Y, Lee S. The Association Between Cold Hypersensitivity in the Hands and Feet and Chronic Disease: Results of a Multicentre Study. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 2018;18:40. NCBI Link.
  8. Wickman G. Cold Hands and Feet. Healthguidance.org. Healthguidance.org Link.
  9. Lowth M. Fever/High Temperature in Children. Chapelfield Medical Centre. Updated May 22, 2017. Chapelfield Medical Centre Link.
  10. Types of Peripheral Neuropathy - Other Type of Peripheral Neuropathy. University of Chicago: Center for Peripheral Neuropathy. Updated April 16, 2010. Center for Peripheral Neuropathy Link.
  11. Blahd WH, Husney A, Romito K. Cold Temperature Exposure. C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. Updated November 20, 2017. Mott Children's Hospital Link.
  12. Seo JC, Lee HJ, Kwak MA, et al. Acupuncture in Subjects with Cold Hands Sensation: Study Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial. Trials. 2014;15:348. NCBI Link.
  13. Raynaud's Disease. NCH Healthcare System. Updated March 4, 2015. NCHMD Link.
  14. Raynaud's and Winter Sports, Swimming, Cycling or Running. Scleroderma & Raynaud's UK. SRUK Link.
  15. Signs and Symptoms of Pituitary Tumors. American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society Link.