People with cold intolerance frequently feel cold when other people are comfortable or even warm. Cold intolerance may only occur in certain parts of the body, such as the hands or feet.
Some people naturally tend to feel colder than others, without any discernible cause. However, cold intolerance can also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
In this article, learn about a range of possible reasons for cold intolerance. We also describe when to see a doctor.
There are many reasons why a person might feel cold all the time, including:
Cold intolerance is a well known symptom of hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones. These hormones help regulate metabolism and temperature.
When the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones, the body’s processes tend to slow down.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
A doctor can diagnose hypothyroidism with a simple blood test. Treatment often consists of thyroid hormone replacement.
2. Raynaud’s disease
Raynaud’s disease affects the arteries in the fingers, toes, or both. These arteries become narrow, which reduces blood flow.
During these episodes, the fingers and toes can turn blue or white. As blood flow returns, the fingers and toes can become red and feel numb or painful.
Cold temperatures and stress can trigger episodes of Raynaud’s. Treatment involves avoiding triggers if possible and, for some people, medication or surgery.
Anemia occurs when a person does not have enough red blood cells circulating and carrying oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of anemia, including feeling cold, result from a relative lack of oxygen.
Other symptoms can include:
- feeling cold in the hands or feet
- weakness or fatigue
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- trouble breathing
- an increased heart rate
- pale skin
There are several kinds of anemia. Types that may make a person feel cold include:
Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. It typically occurs due to blood loss but can also result from poor iron absorption.
People who are pregnant or menstruating are at risk of iron-deficiency anemia.
4. Anorexia nervosa
Anorexia nervosa, or just “anorexia,” is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss or inadequate weight gain and a distorted body image.
People with anorexia may intensely restrict their food intake, exercise excessively, or purge with laxatives or by vomiting.
Anorexia can cause a person to experience cold intolerance due to inadequate body fat.
Other symptoms of anorexia can include:
- weight loss
- stomach problems, such as constipation or cramping
- trouble concentrating
- dizziness or fainting
- the lack of a period in menstruating women
- dry, brittle hair or nails
- poor wound healing
- intense fear of becoming overweight
- restricting certain foods or categories of food
- being secretive about food intake
- fear of eating in public
- social isolation
Treatment of anorexia nervosa often involves a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, and nutritionists. A person may benefit from talk therapy in addition to medication and a nutrition plan.
5. Peripheral artery disease
The accumulation of plaque in the arteries makes them narrower, which means that it is more difficult for blood to flow through them.
Peripheral artery disease often causes decreased blood flow to the extremities, creating a feeling of coldness, numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands, feet, or both. In severe cases, peripheral artery disease can lead to tissue death.
Treatment for peripheral artery disease often includes lifestyle changes, such as exercising and quitting smoking. Some people also need surgery.
Research suggests that women may feel colder or have a higher preferred temperature than men.
The authors of a 2015 study reported that the preferred room temperature for men is 22°C (71.6°F), while for women it is 3°C higher, at 25°C (77°F).
One possible reason for a more significant cold intolerance in females is that they often have a lower resting metabolic rate than men, which means that a female body may use less energy when at rest.
A higher metabolic rate can keep the body warmer, while a low metabolic rate may keep someone feeling cold.
If cold intolerance is a new symptom or a person’s tolerance for cold is diminishing, it is best to see a doctor.
The doctor will ask for a detailed history of symptoms and conduct a physical exam.
Depending on the exam results, the doctor may order additional testing, such as blood tests to check hormone levels or blood counts to determine if there is an underlying medical cause.
Some people tend to feel colder than others; this is not usually an indication of any health issue.
However, if a person is experiencing new or worsening cold intolerance, it might be a sign of an underlying condition.
Anyone concerned about cold intolerance or anyone who experiences additional symptoms should see a doctor for an evaluation.