Cold Feet? They Could Be a Symptom of These 5 Conditions, Doctors Say


It's not unusual for your feet to feel cold during the winter, but if you find yourself frequently pulling on thick socks and huddling under warm blankets to keep your frosty toes warm, it's possible that something other than cold weather could be to blame. Chronic cold feet are connected to several different health problems—and if especially if you're experiencing any other unusual symptoms along with them, it's a good idea to get checked out by your healthcare provider in order to rule out any underlying issues.

Read on to find out about five conditions that your cold feet could be warning you about.

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Your cold feet could be trying to tell you that your thyroid is in trouble. "The thyroid gland is an important regular of metabolic functions in our bodies," says Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, an emergency medicine physician and the co-medical director of the National Capital Poison Center. If you're experiencing persistent cold feet, your thyroid might not be producing enough hormones. This is called hypothyroidsm, which is also known as an underactive thyroid, according to Johnson-Arbor.

"People who have an underactive thyroid may experience fatigue, weight gain, and an intolerance of cold temperatures. These effects on metabolism may lead to a feeling of cold feet," she explains. "Fortunately, thyroid disease can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Treatment, which typically involves lifelong administration of thyroid hormones, can help reduce or eliminate the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism."


Diabetes can also lead to changes in your feet—and despite the condition being very common, it can easily go unnoticed for a long time: Millions of diabetes cases are currently undiagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). David Beatty, MRCGP, a U.K.-based general practitioner, says cold feet may be a sign that you have diabetes.

Diabetics are highly likely to develop peripheral vascular disease (PVD), a condition in which the "supply of arterial blood to the extremities is reduced or, in extreme cases, blocked completely," Beatty explains. "[With this] fats, cholesterol and other substances form plaques which obstruct the arteries, reducing blood flow to the feet," he explains. "Circulation to the extremities can be impaired as a result."

With diabetes and PVD, you may notice some specific changes to your feet alongside coldness. "The affected foot may feel cool to the touch. It may look a purplish blue color or appear pale white," Beatty says. "If the skin is pressed, the area may appear pale for longer than usual before the normal color returns. The foot pulses may be difficult or impossible to feel."


Feeling cold constantly is also commonly connected with anemia, according to Kellie K. Middleton, MD, an Atlanta-based orthopedic surgeon. "This is a condition stemming from a lack of iron or vitamin B-12, resulting in poor blood flow and cold feet," Middleton says, noting that people with anemia often experience fatigue, pale skin, and heart palpitations as well.

Johnson-Arbor says anemia occurs when the number of red blood cells in your body decrease. "Red blood cells carry oxygen to tissues throughout the body. In anemic patients, poor circulation results from the lack of oxygen delivery to tissues," she explains. "Treatments… may include correction of any nutritional deficiencies, iron supplementation, and/or blood transfusion."

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Lung problems

John Landry, a registered respiratory therapist and the founder of Respiratory Therapy Zone, tells Best Life that cold feet can be a "symptom of several lung conditions." According to Landry, three lung-related issues could be connected to cold feet: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary hypertension, and pulmonary embolism.

"COPD is a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. It can cause poor circulation, which can lead to cold feet," he explains. "Pulmonary hypertension is a condition in which the blood vessels in the lungs become narrowed, making it difficult for blood to flow through them. As a result, the body may not receive enough oxygen, which can also cause poor circulation and cold feet."

With COPD and pulmonary hypertension, Landry says you're likely to experience other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue, chest pain, and chest tightness. A pulmonary embolism may also cause some of the same symptoms, but you should also watch out for rapid heartbeat in this case. "This is a serious condition in which a blood clot forms in the lungs, blocking blood flow," Landry says. A pulmonary embolism can "can quickly cause serious life-threatening problems and, even death," according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Ciguatera poisoning

Johnson-Arbor says people should also be aware that cold feel are also associated with ciguatera poisoning. "This is a common marine toxin-borne illness that occurs after consumption of contaminated fish," she explains. "Large tropical fish, including barracuda, amberjack, and snapper, can carry the toxins that cause ciguatera poisoning."

It can be hard to tell if a fish is contaminated with the toxins that cause ciguatera poisining, as they don't alter its appearance, taste, or smell, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cooking does not destroy the toxins, unfortunately, so you may only know you have it if symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain, and cold feet show up after you eat. "Individuals affected by ciguatera often experience a reversal of hot and cold sensation in their extremities, and may feel a painful 'dry ice' sensation when touching cool or cold surfaces," Johnson-Arbor says.

The CDC says you should seek medical care if you've recently eaten fish and develop symptoms. These usually develop three to six hours after eating contaminated fish, but may start up to 30 hours later, according to the agency. "There is no specific cure for ciguatera poisoning, and most of the signs and symptoms generally resolve over time," Johnson-Arbor adds. "However, some affected individuals experienced chronic persistence of their symptoms."