Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 15, 2022
Feel like you’re walking around on blocks of ice? It could be the temperature, especially if your hands are cold, too. When your core temp drops, small blood vessels in your hands and feet tighten up. This moves blood toward your organs to keep them warm. The less circulation in your hands and feet, the colder they get.
When your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, it saves energy just in case you have to deal with a threat. The body dumps adrenaline into your bloodstream, which can narrow blood vessels. That means less blood gets to your feet, which can make them feel cold.
Every time your heart beats, it sends blood throughout your body. But if you have a heart condition, smoke, or don’t move around often, your circulation may be poor. This slows the flow of blood around your body and is one of the most common medical conditions that can trigger cold feet.
Type 1 and 2 Diabetes
When your blood sugar is high often, your arteries narrow. This makes it hard for blood to get to your hands and feet. Diabetes can also lead to diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a condition that damages your nerves. It interrupts messages between your body and brain, so your feet may also feel prickly or numb.
This treatable condition happens when you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells. They carry oxygen to all the tissues in your body. If your anemia is moderate to severe, your feet may feel cold.
Your thyroid gland makes hormones and sends them to your bloodstream. When it doesn’t make enough hormones – a condition called hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid – you may gain weight, feel tired, and have cold feet. This is because your metabolism has slowed, which can affect body temperature.
Also called Raynaud’s phenomenon or disease, this condition causes your body to overreact when you’re exposed to cold water or air. The arteries that supply blood to your feet narrow, so normal amounts of blood can’t get through. Your skin may also look blue or white. For some, stress can trigger Raynaud’s.
If you have nerve damage from an injury or medical condition, your cold feet could be the result of peripheral neuropathy. It can start in your longest nerves, which go all the way to your toes. Diabetes is the main cause of polyneuropathy, meaning that many nerves are affected. Other causes of peripheral neuropathy include vitamin deficiencies and infections. Toxic exposure and kidney diseases can also lead to peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
This condition is triggered by too much plaque on your artery walls, which slows blood flow. It’s especially common in people 50 or older who’ve smoked or have diabetes. If you notice leg cramps, nail changes, or sores on your feet, ask your doctor about PAD.
Stock Up on Socks
Cold feet is a common complaint. If it’s not a sign of something more serious, it could be genetic, or run in your family. Or it’s just the way your body works. Bonus points for warming your socks in the dryer before you put them on.
Does a warm core equal warm feet? See how your body reacts. Wear layers of clothes to keep your body temperature up. If you get too hot, you can take off a layer or two.
Avoid Nicotine and Large Amounts of Caffeine
Caffeine and nicotine make the muscles around your blood vessels constrict, or narrow. This leaves less space for blood flow. Small amounts of caffeine aren’t likely to cause a problem, but large amounts can affect circulation and lead to cold feet. And if you have Raynaud’s, caffeine could trigger an episode. This can give you cold feet. If you drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, try swapping them out with water. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about healthy ways to quit.
Move Your Body
Exercise gets your blood flowing. Take a brisk walk, ride a bike, or do some stretches to boost circulation everywhere, including your feet.