Cold Hands

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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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:

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

  • Difficulty breathing

  • 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)

  • Atherosclerosis

  • 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)

  • Frostbite

  • Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (congenital heart defect that reduces blood flow to the body)

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

  • Limited systemic sclerosis

  • Medications such as Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), which is used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure

  • 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?

What are the potential complications of cold hands?

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:

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 6
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Frostbite. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000057.htm.
  2. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002096/.
  3. Raynaud's Phenomenon. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Raynauds_Phenomenon/default.asp.
  4. Thromboangiitis obliterans. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001225/.
  5. What Is Raynaud's? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/raynaud/ray_what.html.
  6. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.