What are cold hands?
It is normal for your hands to feel cold in cold or freezing weather because warm blood is pumped out from your heart, and your hands are relatively far from your heart.
Persistent cold hands or a feeling of cold hands when the temperature is not cold might be a sign of a circulatory disorder, blood vessel damage due to frostbite, or another disease, disorder or condition that affects your arteries, veins, capillaries, or your metabolism. It is important when you have persistently cold hands that you pay close attention to all the symptoms that you are feeling so that you and your licensed medical professional can pinpoint and treat its underlying cause.
Certain underlying causes of cold hands can lead to life-threatening complications when undetected and untreated. Seek prompt medical care if your symptoms are persistent, recur, or cause you concern . Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have been exposed to cold temperatures and may have hypothermia or frostbite, or if you have numbness and pale, grey or bluish coloring of the fingers, toes, nose, lips or earlobes.
What other symptoms might occur with cold hands?
Cold hands can occur with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that may occur with cold hands include:
Blisters or ulcers on the hands or feet
Hard and pale skin on the hands
Pain, throbbing, burning, tingling or numbness in the hands, fingers, legs, ankles, toes, nose, lips, earlobes or feet
Symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition
In some cases, cold hands may occur with other symptoms and certain combinations of symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have cold hands with any of the following symptoms:
Confusion or change in alertness or level of consciousness
Pale, grey or bluish (cyanotic) coloring of the fingers, toes, nose, lips or earlobes
What causes cold hands?
Cold hands are caused by a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions that include:
Anemia (decreased number of red blood cells)
Buerger’s disease (also known as thromboangiitis obliterans, which is acute inflammation and obstruction of blood vessels in the fingers and toes – more common in smokers)
Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (congenital heart defect that reduces blood flow to the body)
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
Limited systemic sclerosis
Raynaud’s phenomenon (episodes of blood vessel constriction in the fingers and toes triggered by cold temperatures or stress)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of cold hands
To diagnose the underlying cause of cold hands, your doctor or licensed health care provider will ask you questions about your symptoms. You can best help your health care provider in diagnosing the underlying cause of cold hands by providing complete answers to these questions:
Are you in pain?
Have you been exposed to cold temperatures recently?
How long have you had cold hands?
What medications are you taking?
What other symptoms do you have?
Cold hands can be caused by a serious underlying disease, disorder or condition such as diabetes, Raynaud’s phenomenon, frostbite, or hypothyroidism. Complications of these untreated or poorly managed diseases, disorders or conditions can be serious and even life threatening. Follow the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce your risk of complications including:
Birth defects and miscarriage
Hypothyroidism-related myxedema coma
Kidney damage and kidney failure
Serious infections of skin tissues, gangrene (tissue death), and amputation