Cold Hands and Feet

Cold Hands and Feet: Overview

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.

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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)
  • Frostbite
  • 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).
  • Stress

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.

Signs, symptoms & indicators of Cold Hands and Feet:

Symptoms - Metabolic

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Risk factors for Cold Hands and Feet:


Poor Circulation

In cases of peripheral vascular disease, the arteries narrow and there is a marked reduction of blood flow especially to the fingers and toes.

Environment / Toxicity



Progesterone Low or Estrogen Dominance

Cold hands and feet, often caused by low thyroid function, may be a symptom of estrogen excess or low progesterone influencing thyroid function.


Chronic Fatigue / Fibromyalgia Syndrome

Raynaud's phenomenon (severe cold hands and feet) affects about 16% of fibromyalgia sufferers.


Recommendations for Cold Hands and Feet:

Botanical / Herbal

Cayenne Pepper

In cold climates, cayenne powder can be used topically as well as internally.  One-eighth of a teaspoon sprinkled into each shoe and/or glove acts to help the body generate heat.  Water-soluble components in cayenne dilate capillaries in the skin surface, producing an immediate sensation of heat.  Within 15 minutes, oil-soluble compounds reach deeper tissues, generating warmth for hours.

Ginkgo Biloba

Gingko has an documented reputation for improving circulation, and is sometimes of help for cold hands and feet.

Ginger Root

A warming herb sometimes helpful in improving circulation.




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