Signs and Symptoms: Cold Hands and Feet

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

What It Means to Have Cold Hands and Feet

Man in slacks and shirt wearing a scarf and rubbing hands together looking like he may have cold hands and feet.People who suffer from Adrenal Fatigue commonly complain about having cold hands and feet. There are several reasons that people often feel cold, and some of these may be exacerbated by Adrenal Fatigue. If you are in a cold environment, you will naturally have cold hands and feet. This is normal. However, if your hands and feet are cold on a continuous basis, even when the external temperature is warm, something else could be going on. If you are often cold when others are comfortable, with no apparent reason for the difference, it could be a subtle, but important, warning sign. You can get a medical workup, but the results are usually unremarkable. You may be told just to keep warm with more clothing.

There are many temporary solutions for cold hands and feet that might help for a short time, such as socks, wraps, or a heat generating or retaining bag. Some lifestyle changes also might make a difference. Consuming certain foods, such as ginger and cayenne pepper, can stimulate circulation and enhance blood flow to your hands and feet. Some people claim that eating foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, such as flax seeds and salmon, may help; others suggest vitamin D supplementation. Warming the body’s core can help. Exercising improves blood circulation and raises the body’s overall temperature.

But before you try these remedies, consider whether any of the following common causes of cold hands and feet might apply to your situation.

  • Some types of clothes—especially those made with strong nylon, designed to increase elasticity—may restrict blood flow to the hands and feet. Be sure that your clothes are loose fitting and comfortable.
  • Habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can cause injury to peripheral circulation. Reduced circulation may contribute to cold hands and feet.
  • Excessive adrenaline in times of stress and anxiety constricts your small blood vessels, so just a little de-stressing might also help restore warmth to your hands and feet.

If the problem proves to be chronic, and unrelated to any of the above issues, then it likely indicates an underlying health problem. This is particularly true if you never experienced cold hands and feet previously but now it seems to be a pressing issue. The root problem must be addressed, not just the symptoms. The symptoms indicate some sort of imbalance, so if only the symptoms are relieved, you may experience other, perhaps more severe, symptoms. So what is the underlying problem?

Thyroid Function, Autoimmune Disease, and Cold Hands and Feet

Woman sitting down and relaxing with a mug wearing warm socks to prevent cold hands and feet.The thyroid controls the overall metabolism of the body. When thyroid function is low, metabolism slows down, which generally lowers the temperature of the entire body. This generally leads to cold hands and feet, even though the rest of the body feels normal.

This means that the function of the thyroid often directly affects body temperature. Whenever function decreases, the body will become colder than normal. Fatigue, dry skin, and cold hands and feet are textbook signs of hypothyroidism, meaning an underactive thyroid.

Cold hands and feet may also spring from a number of different problems, including autoimmune conditions like Raynaud’s Disease, side effects of medications, poor circulation, or just simple stress. Some people are just more prone to getting cold or cold hands and feet than others. It is still important to pay attention to those subtle signals from the body that can give you clues about your health.

If you start experiencing cold hands and feet suddenly, this isn’t normal for you, and everyone else nearby seems comfortable, consider visiting your doctor.

Adrenal Fatigue and Cold Hands and Feet

Adrenal Fatigue is a condition that arises when the body is under stress and the adrenal glands become weakened. Lack of energy is a hallmark symptom. If stressors are not removed, the body will begin a synchronized slowdown of the body in order to conserve energy. As the metabolism is down regulated to save energy for survival, all organs enter a “slowed down” mode. The gut, liver, and gonads are all affected. The thyroid glands will also slow down, and symptoms of hypothyroidism will manifest. Although medical tests may conclude that hypothyroidism isn’t the problem, the same symptoms may still manifest themselves in a subclinical form of hypothyroidism.

If you are experiencing uncharacteristically cold hands and feet, but your tests are normal, Adrenal Fatigue might be the cause. A decrease in adrenal function may have lead to these symptoms through slowing the internal organs, including the thyroid.

Woman sitting at desk with her computer throwing up her hands in frustration. She may have Adrenal Fatigue and suffer from cold hands and feet as a symptom.Are you are under a lot of stress? Is work becoming more strenuous? Are there relationship problems, financial issues, or other events that have been an ongoing source of anxiety? Finding ways to deal with and remove stressors is crucial for recovery.

If the thyroid is an important part of the problem, but Adrenal Fatigue is at the root, then even thyroid medication won’t help long-term. Replacements such as T3 and T4, or even a mixture of the two, will not alleviate many of the symptoms, and can sometimes make you feel worse. You may continue to experience cold hands and feet because the core issue has been neglected and is unresolved. The adrenal glands will continue to affect physical function, including those cold hands and feet.

If there is an adrenal issue, it is important to resolve it and get the body back on track. Helping the adrenals heal will bring the body back into balance, and various symptoms will fade. Metabolism will increase, thyroid function will increase, and your hands and feet will no longer feel cold.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Woman sitting down and relaxing with a mug wearing warm socks to prevent cold hands and feet.
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