Some people naturally tend to feel colder than others without any discernible cause. However, cold intolerance can also indicate an underlying medical condition, such as hypothyroidism, anemia, or peripheral artery disease.
Dysfunction of the thyroid gland, arterial blood flow, and low body fat can all cause a person to feel cold.
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 common 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.
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- thinning hair
- menstrual issues
- a low heart rate
A doctor can diagnose hypothyroidism with a simple blood test. Treatment often consists of thyroid hormone replacement.
Learn more about hypothyroidism here.
2. Raynaud’s phenomenon
Raynaud’s phenomenon causes blood vessels to narrow when a person experiences cold or stress. This decreases blood flow and may cause affected areas to feel cold.
It commonly affects the arteries in the fingers and toes. Some people may also experience symptoms of Raynaud’s in their lips, ears, and nipples.
During episodes, the affected areas can turn pale. As blood flow returns, the fingers and toes can feel numb or painful.
Treatment involves avoiding triggers if possible and, for some people, medication or surgery.
Learn more about Raynaud’s disease here.
Anemia occurs when a person does not have enough red blood cells circulating and carrying oxygen throughout the body.
Other symptoms can include:
- weakness or fatigue
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- trouble breathing
- 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.
Anemia can also result from nutritional deficiency. Low levels of vitamin B-12 and folic acid can lead to anemia, usually from inadequate dietary intake.
4. Anorexia nervosa
Anorexia nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss or inadequate weight gain and a distorted body image.
People with AN may intensely restrict their food intake, exercise excessively, or purge with laxatives or by vomiting.
People with anorexia often have a low core temperature. They may also have low levels of body fat and a reduced basal metabolic rate. All of these factors can cause a person to feel excessive cold.
Other symptoms of anorexia can include:
- weight loss
- stomach problems, such as constipation or cramping
- trouble concentrating
- dizziness or fainting
- irregular periods
- 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.
Learn more about anorexia nervosa here.
5. Peripheral artery disease
Peripheral artery disease occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to the rest of the body. Another name for this buildup is atherosclerosis.
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
Treatment for peripheral artery disease often includes lifestyle changes, such as exercising and quitting smoking. Some people also need surgery.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Research suggests that women may feel colder or have a higher preferred temperature than men.
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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 resting.
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 contact 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.