Do you often feel cold when others do not? If so, you may be suffering from cold intolerance, a condition where you have an abnormal sensitivity to the cold. What you thought was an issue with other people liking cold temperatures or you just not being used to the cold may be an actual medical condition.
While it may be expected to be sensitive to cold weather or temperatures if you suffer from a certain medical conditions or have little body fat, if the cold intolerance is unbearable or has suddenly appeared and not gone away, a visit to the doctor may be in order.
What Causes Cold Intolerance?
Anemia is a condition where the human body does not make enough red blood cells. Red blood cells are vital, because they transport oxygen throughout the body. An extra or unusual sensitivity to cold is one of the symptoms of anemia. Other symptoms include pale skin, irregular heartbeats and fatigue.
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland, which is located in the base of your neck, fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. This hormone regulates the body’s metabolism, which is related to the body’s thermoregulation, or maintaining of body temperature. One of the symptoms of hypothyroidism is the feeling of cold. Other symptoms include:
Blood Vessel Problem
A blood vessel problem occurs when blood flow is restricted to certain areas of the body, especially the hands and feet. If the cold sensitivity is primarily located in the hands and feet, this could be a sign of a blood vessel problem, such as arteriosclerosis, Raynaud’s disease or a clotting disorder. Other symptoms of a blood vessel problem can include:
A numb, tingling, or throbbing sensation in your extremities
Cold or clammy skin, such as in the hands and/or feet
White or bluish color in your fingers and toes
Note: Raynaud’s disease is a condition where blood vessels will spasm due to intense emotional disturbances or cold temperatures. When the blood vessels spasm, blood flow is restricted to the extremities, as well as the ears and nose. The extremities, nose and ears may become white and if the spasms persist, they may turn blue. When the spasms end (an attack can least from several minutes to several hours), the blood flow will return to the extremities, ears and nose, allowing them to return to normal color.
Diabetes is the body’s inability to properly maintain a normal blood sugar level over an extended period of time. Diabetes can cause kidney damage called diabetic nephropathy. Feeling unusually cold is a symptom of diabetic nephropathy. Other symptoms include:
Itchiness in hands and feet
Feel very thirsty
Shortness of breath
Anorexia is an eating disorder where the individual eats very little and becomes extremely thin due to an irrational fear of gaining weight. Besides feeling cold, other signs of anorexia include:
More than 15% below the recommended body weight
For women, having skipped a period for three months or more
Constant thoughts of losing weight
Medication side effects
Medications, such as beta blockers, often have a side effect of causing feelings of cold in your extremities. This is due to reduced blood circulation in those areas. Beta blockers are prescription drugs for those suffering from migraines, angina or high blood pressure.
Other side effects of beta blockers include muscle cramps, impotence, trouble sleeping and drowsiness. If cold intolerance is a side effect you are suffering while taking beta blockers, discuss it with your doctor to determine if another medication may be substituted; do not stop taking the beta blocker without speaking to your doctor first.
Other causes of cold intolerance
Other, less common causes for sensitivity to cold include:
Pituitary gland problems
When to See a Doctor
When suffering from cold intolerance, a visit to doctor may be warranted if the cold intolerance is extreme or if it has existed for an extended period of time.
When going to the doctor, a staff member will probably take your medical history while the doctor performs a physical examination. Other tests may be conducted, such as blood work. The blood work may test serum TSH, thyroid hormone levels and/or do a complete blood count.
With respect to questions regarding medical history, as they relate to cold intolerance, your doctor might ask questions about:
When the cold intolerance began and how long it has been going on
Has the cold intolerance been getting better or worse over time?
What other medical problems exist
Currently taking any medications or not
Height and weight
What About Heat Intolerance?
Heat intolerance is the body’s inability to maintain a proper body temperature, leading to a number of uncomfortable symptoms when experiencing high temperature. This results in discomfort for the individual, even in warm weather. Heat intolerance can be caused by:
Menopause – During menopause, women commonly suffer from hot flashes.
Hyperthyroidism – Instead of the thyroid gland failing to produce enough thyroid hormone (which causes cold intolerance), the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone.
Intake of caffeine and/or amphetamines – These are stimulants that increase blood flow within the body and can create heat intolerance.
Chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis – While not necessarily causing heat intolerance, chronic conditions may worsen due to increased temperatures.