What diseases and conditions can cause the development of cold hands?

Aside from exposure to cold temperatures or handling cold objects, some diseases or conditions can cause your hands to feel cold. Symptoms may range from mild or moderate to severe. If your symptoms are mild or occur occasionally, you might ignore them. If symptoms become more frequent or severe, your condition may require treatment.

Raynaud’s -This is a fairly common disorder that affects the arteries that supply blood from the heart to other parts of the body. It results in temporary constriction or narrowing of the blood vessels, called a vasospasm. Usually, the fingers and hands are affected. In about 40 percent of cases, the toes are also affected. Raynaud’s may only affect one or two fingers or toes. It may affect different parts of the body at different times. During an attack or episode, blood flow to the hands and/or the feet is restricted. Attacks can last from a few minutes to an hour. An attack can be triggered by stress or a sudden or brief exposure to cold temperatures.

There are two forms of Raynaud’s syndrome: primary and secondary.

Primary Raynaud’s disorder has no known cause. It occurs more frequently than the secondary type and is usually less serious.

Secondary Raynaud’s disorder is associated with a more serious underlying condition, disease, or factor. Some of these underlying causes include connective tissue diseases or immune system disorders.

Some of the more common causes of secondary Raynaud’s include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (a disease causing inflammation in joints and resulting in painful deformities)
  • Lupus (a disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue)
  • Scleroderma (hardening of the skin and other body tissues)
  • Atherosclerosis (deposits of plaques of fatty material on the inner walls of arteries)
  • Pulmonary hypertension (a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries in your lungs and the right side of the heart)
  • Certain blood disorders, such as cryoglobulinemia (that cause damage and inflammation of the blood vessels throughout the body); and polymyositis (an inflammatory disease that causes muscle weakness)
  • Sjögren’s syndrome (a disorder that causes dryness of the eyes and mouth)
  • Buerger’s syndrome (blockage of arteries to the feet and hands, leading to pain and tissue damage)

Other causes of secondary Raynaud’s may include:

  • Repetitive motions - Repetitious movements associated with typing or playing a musical instrument for long periods may be a factor. Use of electrical tools that vibrate, like a drill or jackhammer, might trigger attacks.
  • Injuries to the hands - Injuries to the hands caused by an accident, surgery, or frostbite.
  • Use of some workplace chemicals such as vinyl chloride.
  • Use of medications - Some medications linked to secondary Raynauds’s are chemotherapy agents, birth control pills, nonprescription cold and allergy medicines, and beta blockers to treat hypertension. Other medications include narcotics, migraine headache drugs containing ergotamine, and diet pills.

Cold hands may also be a symptom of:

  • Hypothyroidism - An underactive thyroid gland may make it more difficult for a person to tolerate the cold. It is also associated with other diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and lupus.
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD) - When plaque (a fatty substance) builds up on the walls of the arteries, they may become blocked and cause cold hands and feet. PAD occurs more often in adults who are age 50 or older. Those who have diabetes or smoke are at a greater risk.

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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