If you’ve tried all of the cosy socks and slid on the best slippers to try and keep your toes warm, but you still experience cold feet on the regular, it may be time to talk to your doctor. Cold feet can sometimes be totally harmless, but they can also be a symptom of more serious conditions.
Anyone can experience cold feet, but it’s most common in people with high cholesterol, who carry too much weight, are sedentary, smoke, don’t follow a well-balanced diet, or have other circulation or inflammation issues, says podiatrist and foot surgeon Dr Brad Schaeffer.
Cold feet are often related to your arteries, which are the blood vessels that blood flows through, says physician Dr Barbara Bawer. “When these vessels narrow, they lead to less blood flow to your extremities, including your feet,” she says.
Here, we chat with experts to determine why your feet are always cold and how to treat them.
Cold feet causes
1. You have a vascular issue.
The most common cause of cold feet is a vascular issue or poor circulation where blood is not circulating efficiently to your legs and feet, Dr Schaeffer says. It’s especially important to make note if you’re experiencing cold sensations in just one foot, as this may be a sign of peripheral vascular disease which should be treated ASAP, says Dr Bawer.
Note: If you smoke, have high blood pressure, or have high cholesterol, these can put you at risk for vascular disease or other issues with your blood vessels, which can cause cold hands and feet, says pediatrician Dr Meghann Kirk.
2. It’s just your norm
Think back and consider how often you experience cold feet. For some people, cold hands and feet are simply a result of how their body metabolism works. Unless you also have lost a considerable amount of weight recently, this may just be how your body operates, Dr Kirk says.
“While cold feet can sometimes be normal, you should never ignore a recurring physiological symptom that bothers you,” Dr Schaeffer notes. But it is completely possible it’s simply an inherited trait that does no harm.
3. You have a nerve issue.
Peripheral neuropathy is a nerve problem that occurs in your extremities, like your hands and feet, explains Dr Kirk. Symptoms tend to begin at the furthest part away, so nerve issues are often noticed in the legs and feet. Dr Schaeffer adds if you’re experiencing coldness, but your skin itself is not cold, this could be a symptom of a neurological condition.
4. You’ve lost a lot of weight.
Dr Kirk says if you’ve lost a lot of weight recently, this can change your circulation and cause cold hands and feet. Weight loss can also change metabolism by slowing it down to preserve calories, leaving you feeling chilly. If you’re experiencing unexplained weight loss, be sure to let your doctor know as this can be a symptom of a more serious issue.
5. It’s a side effect of your medication
Some medications have a common side effect of cold extremities. For example, Dr Kirk says some blood pressure medications may slow down the circulation which could cause your feet to feel colder than usual. Some migraine medications, stimulants or amphetamines, or cancer drugs can also cause cold feet, Dr Bawer says.
Additionally, some over-the-counter medications, like decongestants, may constrict or tighten blood vessels, Dr Kirk adds. Always tell your physician about all medications you’re taking, because some over-the-counter drugs can interact with prescription medications, she warns.
6. You have diabetes.
Medical director Dr Peter Deane explains that diabetes can sometimes cause cold feet because the condition is associated with poor circulation. According to Diabetes Australia, this condition can open up the possibilities of foot problems in the future, including poor blood flow to the feet. Additionally, this can make the blood vessels in your feet and legs narrow and harden, so it’s recommended to take precautions to keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control.
7. You’re anemic.
Though it’s not super common, Dr Kirk says an iron deficiency in the diet may make red blood cell counts low, which means your feet will get little oxygen.
8. You have Reynaud’s Syndrome.
This syndrome typically starts in your teenage years or early 20s when fingers and toes turn colours when exposed to a temperature change, Dr Kirk explains. It can occur on its own suddenly, or happen along with other autoimmune or connective tissue diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or thyroid disorders, according to Hopkins Medicine. Be sure to let your doctor know if you notice colour changes in addition to temperature changes in your feet.
9. You have a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Low vitamin B12 levels can lead to nerve damage, Dr Kirk says. Some people don’t have the ability to absorb vitamin B12 properly and may have a B12 deficiency, while others (especially those who follow a plant-based diet) may not have enough B12 in their diet. Foods that are high in vitamin B12 include seafood like salmon, clams, and trout, beef liver, milk, and fortified cereal. If you suspect this may be an issue, speak to your doctor ASAP. This can cause cold hands and feet when sick with an infection, UTI, fever, or other illness.
Cold feet symptoms
If you haven’t changed climate and have a sudden onset change in cold feet, this is likely when there is an underlying issue, Dr Kirk says. And if your feet hurt, or you experience numbness, tingling, or burning associated with the cold feeling, it’s something to mention to your healthcare provider.
Additionally, any colour changes on the skin or around the feet that pop up along with the temperature change should also send a red flag to go see your doc, she adds. This can look like a darkening, purple colour, or even a rash. If you can’t stand on your tippy toes or high heels (which requires stretching the muscles and nerves in the foot), she also recommends checking in with your doctor.
How to treat cold feet
Talk with your healthcare provider about cold feet. Dr Schaeffer says your doctor will likely take a complete medical history because there are many reasons you may be experiencing cold feet. “For feet and toes, in particular, podiatrists and foot and ankle surgeons are very familiar with how extremities look and react to touch if blood flow is compromised,” he adds.
Your doctor will then determine the best treatment for you based on what the cold feet appear to be related to. If it’s a circulation issue, for example, your doctor may suggest getting up and moving more often to get the blood flowing, reducing your intake of fatty and sugary foods, drinking more water, elevating your feet, or wearing compression socks.
Additionally, Dr Deane says cardiovascular exercise can help increase blood flow, medications to treat the underlying problem can offer relief, and in extreme cases, bypass surgery in the legs may be necessary if the arteries are blocked.