Home / Articles / Medical Causes of Cold Fingers

Medical Causes of Cold Fingers

Having cold hands and fingers in cold weather is normal, but constantly feeling cold may be a sign of a medical condition. Learn what it could mean. In chilly weather, it’s normal to experience cold fingers. But if you frequently have cold fingers or hands, it could be a sign of a medical condition. If you also have changes to your skin color, numbness, pain, or tingling, you might also be

  • Posted on 25th Jan, 2022 18:30 PM
  • 1205 Views
Medical Causes of Cold Fingers Image

In chilly weather, it’s normal to experience cold fingers. But if you frequently have cold fingers or hands, it could be a sign of a medical condition. If you also have changes to your skin color, numbness, pain, or tingling, you might also be experiencing Raynaud's phenomenon, a variety of conditions sometimes called poor circulation.

This article will discuss common causes of cold fingers. It will cover issues that include white fingertips, fingers swelling in cold weather, and poor circulation in the fingers. It will also discuss when to get help, and what vitamins might help with cold fingers. 

hobo_018 / Getty Images

Are Cold Fingers Normal?

Feeling cold is a normal reaction when your body is exposed to the elements and lower temperatures. Most people get cold fingers after shoveling the driveway or skiing. To understand why it’s important to know a bit about circulation. 

As blood circulates throughout your body, it brings nourishment and keeps your body warm. However, when the body is exposed to cold temperatures, blood vessels in the hands and feet constrict, or shrink.

That allows for more blood flow to the core and head, where your most important organs are. Unfortunately, it also means that your hands and feet have less blood flow. This can lead to cold fingers or toes. Normally, blood flow returns to normal once you’re inside and begin warming up.

When blood vessels in your fingers or toes constrict too much, relative ischemia (not enough blood getting to an area) can develop. This can be painful. When it occurs, it is called Raynaud's phenomenon.

Usually, this occurs with a change in temperature. For example, it may occur in the summer if you go from a 90-degree day into a 70-degree air-conditioned building.

Condition-Related Signs

There are signs that your cold fingers might be cause for concern. The following can indicate that your cold fingers are related to a medical condition, not just frigid weather:

  • Changes to color, including white, red, or blue on the fingertips
  • Cold hands even in mild weather 
  • Hands that are difficult to get warm
  • Pain in addition to feeling cold
  • Needing to wear gloves when handling frozen foods
  • Cuts on the hands or fingers that are slow to heal

Poor Circulation in Fingers

In most cases, cold fingers are related to circulatory problems in the hands and fingers. Two ways in which poor circulation can cause cold fingers are:

  • Vasoconstriction: It’s normal for the body to constrict blood vessels in response to cold. However, if your body constricts blood flow too much or for too long, it leads to a condition called vasoconstriction, which causes abnormally cold fingers. 
  • Vaso-occlusion: Rarely, a blood vessel in the hand or wrist can become blocked, limiting blood flow. This is known as vaso-occlusion. 

Causes of Cold Fingers and Hands 

There are many different conditions that can cause vasoconstriction or vaso-occlusion. If you’re experiencing frequent cold fingers, talk to a healthcare provider to rule out any medical causes. The medical causes of cold fingers include:

Diabetes

Diabetes is closely linked to poor circulation. Cold fingers and toes can be one of the first signs. This might also present as numb or tingling fingers, and wounds that are slow to heal. Circulation issues get worse with uncontrolled diabetes, so talk with your healthcare provider about creating a plan to manage your blood sugar.  

Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Raynaud’s phenomenon is an autoimmune condition in which the blood vessels spasm in reaction to cold. This causes reduced blood flow to the hands, leading to cold fingers. People with Raynaud’s phenomenon often have fingers that turn blue or white in response to cold, and bright red when they rewarm.

Raynaud’s phenomenon can occur on its own and is also closely linked with other autoimmune conditions (in which the immune system mistakenly attacks a person's own tissues) including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 helps support the formation of red blood cells (which carry oxygen throughout the body), and healthy nerves. People who are deficient in B12 can experience coldness, tingling, or numbness in their hands.

Vitamin B12 is most commonly found in animal sources like milk, meat, and eggs, so vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk for B12 deficiency due to diet. But a deficiency may also be caused by conditions that decrease the absorption of B12.

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which your red blood cell count is too low or your red blood cells do not function properly to carry oxygen to your tissues. This leads to poor circulation and feeling cold throughout the body, but you might notice it the most in your fingertips.

Anemia can develop if you don’t get enough iron or B12. It’s also common after blood loss, or if you have an inflammatory disease. 

Thyroid Disease

The thyroid is a gland in your neck that produces hormones (chemical messengers). When it is underactive, you might feel cold. This can include cold fingers. This happens because your body doesn’t have enough of the thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism, so your cells are generating less energy, and therefore putting off less heat. 

Stress

When you’re stressed your body releases adrenaline, a hormone also known as epinephrine. It causes many effects in the body, including prompting blood vessels to constrict, which can lead to cold fingers.

Other Conditions

Any conditions that affect your blood flow and metabolism can lead to cold fingers. These might include:

  • Autoimmune disorders, including arthritis and lupus
  • Low blood pressure, or hypotension
  • Medication side effects

 How to Warm Up 

In order to get your hands warm again, you should work with your healthcare provider to identify the root cause of your cold fingers. Treating the underlying condition—whether it’s diabetes, an autoimmune disorder, or stress—will help you have fewer episodes of cold fingers. 

You can also make lifestyle adjustments, like wearing gloves more frequently or holding a warm mug. Be careful if you’re experiencing numbness since you don’t want to burn yourself while trying to get warm. 

Summary

Cold fingers are common, but if your hands don’t warm up easily, you might be dealing with a medical condition. Cold fingers are usually linked to circulation problems. Those can have an array of causes, from diabetes to autoimmune disease.

If you have constantly cold fingers, especially if they’re accompanied by pain or color changes, talk with your healthcare provider. 

A Word From Verywell 

Cold fingers might seem like a minor issue, but you shouldn’t brush it off. Consistently cold fingers can be a sign of medical conditions that lead to poor circulation. Talk to your healthcare provider about your cold fingers. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do people with diabetes have cold fingers?

    Diabetes often leads to problems with circulation, since poor glucose (blood sugar) control can lead to the narrowing of the arteries. If you have diabetes and experience cold fingers, talk with your healthcare provider. 

  • When would you need to see a doctor for cold fingers?

    If you have consistent cold fingers that aren’t explained by long periods in cold temperatures, talk with your healthcare provider. It’s especially important to see your healthcare provider if you have color changes, pain, numbness, or tingling.

  • Which vitamins help with cold hands and fingers?

    Being deficient in iron or B12 can lead to cold fingers. Talk with your healthcare provider before taking these supplements to ensure they will address the underlying cause and you are taking an appropriate amount.

Medical Causes of Cold Fingers View Story