Cold extremities occur when blood vessels are constricted or slightly obstructed. This may be due to increased connective tissue tension around the blood vessels, which causes a reduction in the passage of blood through the skin. The hands or feet may change color, from pink through purple, orange, and blue even to white. As they warm up again, the color changes back again in reverse order, often accompanied by a feeling of throbbing or buzzing.
Causes and Development
A lot of us have cold hands or feet and simply put up with it. For some people it can be a serious problem – especially if they get very cold. Some people wear mittens and heavy socks all year round, even in warm weather, indoors and out. Their hands and feet are always cold. A number of things cause this, such as:
- Poor circulation due to coronary heart disease
- Raynaud's disease (disorder that affects the flow of blood to the fingers and sometimes to the toes)
- Working with vibrating equipment (like a jackhammer)
- A side-effect of taking certain medications
- An underlying disease affecting blood flow in the tiny blood vessels of the skin. (Women smokers may be prone to this).
Some people's blood vessels are hypersensitive to cold and tend to go into spasm
, a condition known as Raynaud's Syndrome
. This is most common in young women. The fingertips, then the fingers and even the whole hand become cold and go white. They go numb and have difficulty doing fine movements. Sometimes the feet are also affected. In the most extreme of circumstances where for some reason the blood supply to an area is restricted for a prolonged period of time frost bite or gangrene can occur.
Treatment and Prevention
If wearing gloves and wool socks and staying indoors where it's warm is a nuisance or doesn't help, try these other warm-up tips:
- Don't smoke. It impairs circulation.
- Avoid caffeine. It constricts blood vessels.
- Avoid handling cold objects. Use ice tongs to pick up ice cubes, for instance.
- With fingers outstretched, swing your arms in large circles, like a baseball pitcher warming up for a game. This may increase blood flow to the fingers. (Don't do this if you have bursitis or back problems!)
- Do not wear footwear that is tight-fitting.
- Wiggle your toes. It may help keep them warm as a result of increased blood flow.
- Practice a relaxation technique, such as biofeedback.