Cold hands: What’s normal and what’s not?

Having cold hands is a common experience. Spending time outdoors in cold weather or an air-conditioned space indoors can cause your hands to feel cold temporarily. Removing items from a refrigerator or freezer, or immersing your hands in cold water can also make them feel cold.

If your hands feel cold even during warm or mild weather, or they take a long time to warm up after being exposed to the cold, you may have a disease or condition that restricts blood flow to the hands. Blood flows from the heart to the hands through the ulnar artery and the radial artery. Exposure to cold temperatures causes the muscles around these arteries to tighten or constrict. This is a normal response, so that the body can conserve heat and protect the vital organs, such as the heart and lungs, from damage.

However, sometimes blood vessels will constrict suddenly, even when there is no apparent cause. This constriction or vasospasm causes the hands to feel cold. The skin of the fingers and hands also might change color from pink to blue or white. When blood flow resumes, your hands might appear red and feel hot.

Frequent or extended vasospasms can result in skin sores (ulcers) or tissue damage.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/25/2018.

References

  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Raynaud’s. Accessed 07/27/2018.
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Raynaud’s Phenomenon. Accessed 07/27/2018.
  • Raynaud’s Association. Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed 07/27/2018.
  • American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Cold Hands. Accessed 07/27/2018.
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hypothyroidism (Underactive thyroid). Accessed 07/27/2018.
  • Ong, VH and Denton, C. In: Wigley FM, Herrick AL, Flavahan,NA, eds. Raynaud’s Phenomemon: A Guide to Pathogenesis and Treatment. New York, NY: Springer 2015:107-127.

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