Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Your Constant Cold Feet


If you’re wearing two pairs of fuzzy socks right now and your feet are still freezing, you may have already accepted that being cold-natured is just the norm for you. But, having perpetually cold feet — in the literal sense, not in the being-overly-nervous-about-something sense — could be a sign of a health issue that you should get checked out.

Cold feet are common during the winter when the rest of your body tends to be chilly. Usually, you and your feet will warm up once you’re inside a heated space or slip on your wooly socks. Still, Saylee Tulpule, DPM, a Washington, D.C.-based podiatrist and a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association, says, “When cold feet continue to progress — they’re cold even if you’re at home, or the feet are cold and causing pain — that’s a warning sign that must get treated by a physician.”

Many medical conditions, but especially circulation-related problems, can make your feet cold — and sometimes also tingly, discolored and painful. These issues won’t resolve on their own, so medical attention is crucial. Left untreated, poor circulation could lead to more serious health consequences.

Good Housekeeping asked doctors to discuss some of the most common reasons your feet are always cold, plus other symptoms you should be on the lookout for. And more on when you should really worry about cold toes, as well as how best to keep them warm in the meantime.

What could be causing your cold feet?

The main concern has to do with poor circulation, and many issues may be impacting this aspect of your cardiovascular health — including smoking, heart conditions, diabetes, high blood pressure and other health issues. Here’s a look at some specific reasons your feet are always cold:

why are my feet always cold 9 reasons for freezing toes

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1) You could have peripheral artery disease.

One circulation-related condition that causes cold feet is peripheral artery disease (PAD), also sometimes called peripheral vascular disease. It causes the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the lungs to narrow or become blocked, so less blood reaches your feet, Tulpule says. Other PAD symptoms include pain or cramping in your legs, slow-healing foot or leg wounds, skin discoloration and poor nail growth.

PAD is a dangerous condition. If it’s not treated, it can cause infections, gangrene, and possible leg or foot amputation, Tulpule says. It also increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke, according to materials published by the American Heart Association.

2) You have a heart condition.

Cold feet may signal a larger cardiovascular problem, and more likely one with your heart specifically. When plaque builds up in your arteries, it affects circulation. The body focuses on circulating blood to vital organs, like your brain and lungs, to overcompensate for the heart’s inability to pump blood to the whole body — which then often restricts blood flow to your limbs, explains Sonia Rivera-Martinez, DO, a board-certified osteopathic family medicine physician and trustee board member of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). So you may feel coldness in your feet, legs, hands, and arms.

Asking your physician about potential screenings for heart-related issues when discussing your chronic cold feet may clue you into a larger issue.

3) You might have Reynaud’s syndrome.

Reynaud’s syndrome causes spasms in the small blood vessels in your fingers and toes. This phenomenon decreases circulation and causes pain and discoloration of your digits — the tips of your fingers and toes might go from white to red to blue. It’s also painful, and can bring on tingling or numbness, Tulpule says. Reynaud’s is usually triggered by exposure to the cold as well. Depending on how severe it is, Reynaud’s can be managed by simply avoiding the cold, wearing extra-warm clothing, or taking medication, but there’s no cure for the condition, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

4) You could have nerve issues.

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when nerves outside the brain or spinal cord are damaged, according to the Mayo Clinic. This causes weakness, numbness, pain, and temperature sensitivity in your hands and feet. The numbness and tingling might spread up your legs and make you feel cold.

The condition can be brought on by an injury, an infection such as Lyme disease or hepatitis, an autoimmune disorder like lupus, or most commonly, diabetes. According to Rivera-Martinez, “Diabetes damages the nerves and gives you these numb-feet symptoms.”

why are my feet always cold 9 reasons for freezing toes

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5) You have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

A long-term vitamin B12 deficiency can cause nerve damage, which might lead to numbness and tingling in the feet. “It’s interpreted as a cold sensation,” says Ira Monka, DO, a board-certified osteopathic family physician and president-elect of AOA. Eating more B12-rich foods, like meat, poultry, shellfish and eggs, or taking a supplement ensures you’re getting enough of the vitamin.

6) You’re anemic.

Iron deficiency can cause anemia, which happens when your body lacks enough healthy red blood cells to move oxygen to your organs. So having cold hands and feet, and generally feeling chilly is common, Rivera-Martinez says. Eating dark-green veggies, fortified breads and cereals, eggs, and red meat can decrease your risk for anemia. It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor, who might suggest iron supplements.

7) Your thyroid might be underperforming.

When your thyroid doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone, a condition known as hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid, it can cause many different symptoms, including a sensitivity to the cold. It slows your metabolism and affects your circulation, causing cold feet, Rivera-Martinez explains.

8) Your medication is to blame.

Some medications — including those classified as beta-blockers, pseudoephedrine, migraine therapies, drugs used in ADHD treatment and most forms of chemotherapy — might increase your sensitivity to the cold and keep your feet freezing, Monka says. If you’re taking these drugs and can’t seem to warm up your toes, talk to your doctor about troubleshooting your meds.

9) You’re just cold-natured.

If you’ve tried to discuss any of the issues above with your doctor to no avail, rest assured — you may be just born this way. “I certainly get a fair amount of patients that come in and their circulation’s strong, they don’t have any risk factors — they don’t smoke, they eat well, they exercise — and their feet are just cold,” Tulpule says. Layer on the fuzzy socks!

woman's feet with woolen socks, domestic cat, enjoying inside home on the radiator

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Are cold feet related to circulation or heart health?

Poor circulation — caused by a heart problem, smoking, high blood pressure, Reynaud’s disease or diabetes — is the most common cause of chronic cold feet, Tulpule says. Blocked or narrowed blood vessels makes it harder for blood to flow freely. It takes longer for blood to reach your feet, which makes your toes cold.

Cold feet are just one symptom of poor circulation, though. Pay attention to other things, too, like tingling, numbness, pain, or pale or blue skin, in your feet, according to officials at the Cleveland Clinic. “Poor circulation isn’t going to get better without some sort of intervention,” Tulpule says. “It could be because of a poor diet or a smoking history, you could have major blockages that you’re just not aware of.”

What does it mean if your feet are cold all the time?

Having cold feet all the time is definitely a drag. You might constantly be searching for the warmest socks you can find or avoid going out when it’s freezing. If your feet just won’t warm up or seem to be feeling colder than ever, see your doctor.

“Since there are many causes of cold extremities with poor circulation, the sooner you see your primary care physician, the sooner you’ll get answers,” Monka says.

Along with cold feet, pay attention to other foot- and leg-related symptoms, like:

  • Pain or cramping (at rest or during movement)
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Skin color changes
  • Shiny skin
  • Lack of pulse (or a weak pulse)

Start with your primary care physician, and they’ll refer you to a vascular doctor, cardiologist or another specialist, Tulpule says. Usually treating the root cause of the cold feet will help improve the symptoms.

How do you fix cold feet?

While the only way to relieve cold feet long-term is with medical attention, there are some ways to warm up your toes temporarily, according to doctors:

  1. Wear really warm socks: Warm, fuzzy socks may sound like an obvious cold-feet remedy, but they work. Just opt for socks made from wool, nylon, or polyester, and avoid cotton varieties. “Cotton actually holds onto moisture, like sweat,” Tulpule says. “If it’s a cold, slushy day outside, and that happens to penetrate your socks, you’re introducing cold to your feet.”
  2. Use foot warmers: Warming products, like HotHands Insole Foot Warmers, bring some heat to your extremities. You can also place a heating pad over your feet. But, if you don’t have full sensation in your feet, Tulpule urges caution with warmers: You might risk burning yourself.
  3. Get moving: Going for a walk or just moving around will help you warm up your feet and the rest of your body. Any movement will do; it doesn’t need to be strenuous, Rivera-Martinez says, “Movement propels circulation.”
  4. Soak in a lukewarm foot bath: Submerge your feet in a bath or basin of lukewarm water. It might be tempting to use hot water, but that should be avoided, as it can be painful on your cold feet, Tulpule says. “It should be gradual rewarming.”

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