Cold hands

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 10, 2015
StartSymptomsCold hands

Some individuals may experience cold hands, even while other people around them seem to be warm. These individuals might worry that something is wrong with their circulation since they are so much more sensitive to cool temperatures than others. Rest assured, that's not always the case. Studies have shown that up to 15% of people (mainly women) suffer from cold hands. Read on, to learn the possible causes and cures.

Contents

Definition & Facts

Generally speaking, in humans and most other mammals, the skin is kept stabilized at comfortable temperatures thanks to your blood vessels. Regulating a core body temperature is what makes mammals "warm blooded". Blood vessels carry oxygen-rich blood to all parts of the body.

When the temperature drops, sensory receptors within nerves alert the brain to constrict the blood vessels. In turn, smaller amounts of blood reach the skin so that a mammalian body can conserve warmth in the core, keeping internal body temperature consistent. This process is called vasoconstriction and helps protect internal organs.

Causes

Some people are much more sensitive than others to the vasoconstriction process. In these people, the slightest temperature change can trigger vasoconstriction to happen. Some studies have found that this type of over-sensitive reaction is more common in women. This is most likely because of fluctuating levels of estrogen –- a hormone that plays a huge role in regulating body temperature.

It's just the way some humans are (mainly women), and there's usually no need to be concerned. For men or other people who don't think the estrogen fluctuation is applicable to them, here are some possible causes to consider when it comes to cold hands:

When an individual has any of these medical conditions, that could be the sole cause for the symptom of cold hands.

When to See a Doctor

Individuals who aren't sure if they have one of these conditions should seek medical advice from their local health care practitioner or doctor. Health care professionals can run tests to rule anything out and make a proper diagnosis.

It is also important to seek a doctor if cold hands are not the only symptom one experiences. When individuals can't figure out why their hands are always cold, and if they have ruled out all the possible causes listed above, a health care professional should be seen. Some individuals with cold hands experience extreme temperatures drops in their extremities -- so severe that their hands turn different colors.

This can also lead to frostbite. When symptoms of cold hands are so extreme that the hands may begin to turn red, blue, white or purple this may indicate a more serious problem such as Raynaud's disease. Raynaud's disease is a very severe cold sensitivity. It usually affects fingers, toes, nose and ears – which can go numb and turn white or blue in color. Generally, prescription medications can be prescribed to widen the blood vessels in these patients.

Treatment & Therapy

For women, it never hurts to take extra iron supplements – especially when low. Vitamin B12 is also good to take for cold hands. In fact, taking a multivitamin (formulated for an individual's gender and age) every day might help alleviate the symptom.

When cold hands are extremely bothersome, a physician or health care professional can prescribe certain medications to help regulate estrogen levels or widen blood vessels. This is especially recommended for menopausal women or women who go on and off birth control pills. Alternatively, hands can simply be warmed up physically. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Have a warm bath or shower when possible
  • Soak cold hands in semi-hot water until they warm up
  • Purchase and use Hot Hands® -- small air-activated heat bags that contain a special sand that heats up when activated and stays hot for several hours
  • Keep a hot water bottle on hand
  • Keep a warm cup of tea in hands-reach
  • Wear extra layers of clothing to keep the core body temperature warm so that the slightest change in temperature does not bother you.
  • Stay wrapped in a blanket when in a cooler room
  • Wear socks or slippers to avoid stepping on cold tile or cement
  • Wear a thick sweater or robe when navigating to cooler areas of a home, building, or the outdoors
  • Always keep a heat source on hand (water bottle, a cup of soup, tea, or coffee, etc)
  • Take iron and/or Vitamin B12 supplements
  • Wear thin gloves whenever possible
  • Bundle up to keep core body temperature warm
  • Individuals with cold hands can simply warm them up by holding them on other parts of their body.

Any of the above ideas can help warm up cold hands. Typically, people with cold hands generally have warm bodies. It's usually only the extremities such as the hands, feet, nose, and sometimes ears that get cold.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Preventing hands from becoming cold in the first place is completely preventable, but does take time and effort. Every time a slight drop in temperature occurs, cold hands can occur in these individuals. Slight drops in temperature usually happen when moving to a cooler room, going outside with a temperature (even slightly) cooler than inside, or stepping on a cool floor. Any of these changes in temperature can trigger cold hands.

When cold hands are the only symptom experienced, or if a known underlying medical condition is the possible cause of this symptom, it is one that is quite easy to treat and prevent. One critical component to treating cold hand symptoms is to determine the cause of why the hands may be abnormally cold.

Only a small percentage of people have a related disease (as mentioned above) that can significantly cause the hands to be cold. Hand specialists or physicians can refer individuals they can't diagnose to other specialists (such as rheumatologists, hematologists or oncologists) to assess if an individual may have a cold hand-related systemic disease. When one of these illnesses, is not present, it's unlikely that the symptom of cold hands will affect other organs.

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