Cold Feet

Overview

What are cold feet?

Cold feet occur when your feet feel like they’re at a lower temperature than the rest of your body. For example, your hands could be warm, while your feet feel like you walked barefoot in the snow.

There are a lot of reasons why your feet could be cold, ranging from cold climates to a sign of a serious medical condition. The most common cause of cold feet is poor blood flow in your legs and feet. If you experience frequent cold feet, reach out to your healthcare provider for an examination.

Who do cold feet affect?

Cold feet can affect anyone. You might experience cold feet if you live in an area with a cool climate. Cold feet are more common among people who have:

  • Autoimmune conditions.
  • Circulation problems.
  • Conditions that affect the hormones.
  • Conditions that affect the nervous system.

How common are cold feet?

It is normal and common to get cold feet every once in a while. The exact rate of occurrence is unknown because many cases of cold feet are temporary or associated with a symptom of another condition.

How do cold feet affect my body?

Having cold feet can make you uncomfortable. While the rest of your body is warm, your feet aren’t. You might experience mild pain in your feet until your feet can warm up to the same temperature as the rest of your body. Cold feet can be temporary, but it’s important to visit your provider to make sure your cold feet aren’t a symptom of an underlying condition.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of cold feet?

If you have cold feet, you might experience symptoms that appear once in a while, or happen consistently when temperatures in your environment drop. Symptoms could include:

  • Your feet are at a lower temperature than the rest of your body.
  • You have mild, throbbing pain in your feet and toes.
  • Your feet take longer to warm up if you’re exposed to cold temperatures.
  • Your feet are a different color (pale, red, blue or purple) than the rest of your body.
  • You experience cold feet during specific hours of the day, like at night.

Why is my body warm but my feet cold?

When you’re exposed to cold temperatures, you might notice your feet and hands are the first to get cold, but your chest and torso are still warm. Since your feet are furthest away from your heart, it can take longer for your blood to circulate through the limbs of your body. This can cause your hands and feet to take longer to warm up.

What causes my feet to always be so cold?

There are several causes of cold feet. If you live in a cold climate, you could experience cold feet frequently. In addition, some of the most common causes of cold feet are poor blood flow, a symptom of an underlying condition or a side effect of a medicine.

Poor blood flow

Poor blood flow (circulation) in your legs and feet causes cold feet. Poor blood flow means that it takes longer for the blood to reach your feet.

Your blood travels through pathways (blood vessels) in your circulatory system. These pathways can close, harden and narrow, making it difficult for blood to flow steadily. If your pathways are blocked or narrow, the movement of your blood slows down similar to pouring liquid through a funnel. A lot of liquid can enter the funnel, but the funnel narrows, which slows down how fast the liquid moves. This delay in blood flow causes symptoms of cold feet.

Conditions that cause cold feet as a symptom

Cold feet could be a sign of an underlying condition. Several conditions that affect blood flow include:

Side effects of a medicine

Some medicines could cause cold feet as a side effect based on how the medicine interacts with your blood flow. Medicines that could cause cold feet include:

Diagnosis and Tests

How are cold feet diagnosed?

Since symptoms of cold feet can relate to other conditions or medications you currently take, your provider will begin your diagnosis by gathering information about your medical history. A physical exam will follow, where your provider will look for nerve damage or any injuries that could cause cold feet. Your provider will offer tests to rule out any conditions that might cause cold feet as a symptom, like a blood test to detect anemia or hypothyroidism or imaging tests to rule out heart disease.

Your provider might use an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test to measure blood flow in your legs, using an inflatable blood pressure cuff. An ABI helps diagnose peripheral artery disease, which causes cold feet as a symptom.

Even if you have cold feet that happen every once in a while, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider to make sure your symptoms are temporary and not a sign of an underlying condition.

Management and Treatment

How are cold feet treated?

There are several ways to treat cold feet. You can treat cold feet by managing any underlying medical conditions that cause cold feet as a symptom. If your cold feet are a symptom of a medication you’re taking, don’t stop taking the medicine. Instead, talk with your provider about your symptoms and they will decide whether you should continue taking the medicine or not.

You can take steps to treat your cold feet at home by:

  • Wearing warm socks.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Wearing compression socks or stockings.
  • Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Elevating your legs with a pillow when laying down.
  • Staying hydrated and drinking water.

Are there side effects of the treatment?

If you have cold feet, it may take longer for your nerves to tell you when they encounter too much heat. This could lead to burns from water that is too hot or heating pads. The safest alternative to warming cold feet is to wear thick socks, like wool socks, to prevent burns.

How soon after treatment will I feel better?

The time frame of when you’ll feel better depends on diagnosing and treating what caused your symptoms of cold feet. Some people will feel better immediately by putting on warm socks. Other people might still feel cold, even if they’re wearing warm socks until the underlying cause of their symptoms receives treatment. Talk to your provider about a treatment option that is unique to your symptoms to prevent you from experiencing cold feet.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk of getting cold feet?

You can reduce your risk of experiencing symptoms of cold feet by:

  • Avoiding caffeine.
  • Exercising.
  • Managing underlying conditions.
  • Moving around regularly — avoid sitting all day.
  • Not smoking or using tobacco products.
  • Not walking around barefoot.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have cold feet?

It is normal to experience cold feet every once in a while. Persistent cold feet could be a sign of an underlying condition. When your feet get cold, put on a pair of warm socks and take a short walk or move around to help blood flow to your feet. If your symptoms are the result of an underlying condition, work with your provider to manage or treat the condition that causes your symptoms to prevent your feet from being cold all the time.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Talk to your provider if you experience cold feet regularly and at-home treatment doesn’t work. Remember that having cold feet is normal, but you shouldn’t ignore symptoms of cold feet that happen frequently.

If you experience numbness, severe pain, or sores on your feet that won’t heal or you can’t feel your feet when you touch them, talk to your healthcare provider immediately.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • Are my cold feet a sign of an underlying condition?
  • How do I take care of my feet at home?
  • Are compression socks or stockings right for me?
  • How often do I need to follow the treatment you recommended?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Cold feet aren’t just something you experience on your wedding day. Having cold feet is normal, especially if you live in a colder climate. If you have persistent cold feet, talk with your provider because it could be a sign of an underlying condition. Your provider will offer treatment options that are unique to your symptoms to help you warm up when you’re cold.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/19/2022.

References

  • American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. Cold Feet. (https://www.acfas.org/what-is/cold_feet.htm) Accessed 5/19/2022.
  • American Diabetes Association. Foot Complications. (https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/foot-complications) Accessed 5/19/2022.
  • American Heart Association. Peripheral Artery Disease and Diabetes. (https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/diabetes/diabetes-complications-and-risks/peripheral-artery-disease--diabetes) Accessed 5/19/2022.
  • Merck Manual. Overview of Peripheral Arterial Disease. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders/peripheral-arterial-disease/overview-of-peripheral-arterial-disease?query=peripheral%20artery%20disease) Accessed 5/19/2022.
  • StatPearls. Raynaud Disease. (https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/28249) Accessed 5/19/2022.

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