Autumn is associated with many wonderful things – the crisp rustle of fallen leaves, the distinctive smell of pumpkin spice, and the flavors of the fall bounty, including peppers, squash, and sweet frost-kissed cabbage. However, it is also associated with shorter daylight hours, longer nights, and a subsequent drop in temperature. While you can get cold feet during any season, the drop in temperature during the fall months may exacerbate the situation.
Our hands and feet are more susceptible to changes in temperature than the rest of the body. The smaller size of the blood vessels in the hands and feet increases the chance that cold-related vasoconstriction—the narrowing of the blood vessels—will impede blood flow to these areas. Not only can this lead to discomfort in extreme cases, but it may also lead to frostbite. Additionally, the feet have more nerves per square centimeter than in most parts of the body, making the cold more noticeable.
Although cold feet can be caused by a cold climate or inadequate heating, these aren’t the only factors. Indications that your cold feet may warrant a visit to your doctor include:
- A change in color (pale, red, blue, or purple)
- Associated cramping in the feet or lower legs
- Leg weakness
- Longer than average rewarming time
- Pins and needles sensations
- Poorly healing wounds
- Swelling or numbness in the feet
- Throbbing pain
Conditions that Cause Cold Feet
Certain conditions can make it much more likely for someone’s feet to become cold. Conditions that affect the circulation in the feet make it harder to recover from cold temperatures and may increase the individual’s chances of frostbite or infection.
People who have too little hemoglobin in their blood are categorized as anemic. Anemia causes poor circulation, and less blood is delivered to the extremities, resulting in cold hands and feet.
Blood clots that block the flow of blood to the feet may result in cold feet, pins and needles, or even fully numb feet. In some cases, blood flow will be blocked from one foot but not the other, leading to only one foot feeling cold. If you suspect a blood clot, it should be treated as a medical emergency. Contact a medical professional immediately.
High blood sugar levels can cause damage to the nerves, including the nerves in the feet. This may result in burning sensations, feet that feel cold, and in some cases, a lack of feeling in the feet altogether.
Heart disease weakens the heart, reducing the effectiveness of the circulatory system. This frequently leads to chronically cold hands and feet.
Hormone fluctuations, particularly fluctuations in estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormones, can constrict the blood vessels. Cold feet frequently develop during menopause due to hormonal fluctuations.
Nerve conditions, such as peripheral neuropathy, may also cause a person’s feet to feel cold or numb to them. Feet that feel cold, but aren’t cold to the touch, may suggest a nerve disorder.
Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease is the result of plaque narrowing the arteries. It reduces blood flow to the extremities, leading to cold hands and feet.
This disorder affects the small blood vessels in the fingers, toes, lips, nose, and ear lobes by causing them to spasm in cold weather and interrupt the blood flow.
Smoking cigarettes interferes with the circulatory system by narrowing blood vessels. This habit is especially problematic for the blood vessels in the feet. It is even associated with the development of Buerger’s disease. This disease causes the lining of the blood vessels to swell, restricting blood flow.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can trigger a tightening of the blood vessels, increased blood pressure, and inflammation in the body. All of these can have a detrimental effect on circulation.
Unhealthy Body Weight
Excess fat can lead to inflammation, impeding the flow of blood through the arteries. Being underweight can also result in cold hands and feet, as the body attempts to conserve energy by pulling circulation away from the extremities.
How to Help Cold Feet
In most cases, chilly feet are caused by temporary and medically insignificant conditions with obvious origins. On the other hand, chronically or unexplained cold feet or feet that are difficult to warm back up may indicate more serious conditions. As aforementioned, these include heart disease, diabetes, or hormonal imbalances. These should be addressed by a medical professional.
If your doctor has ruled out any serious underlying conditions, there are several ways to reduce the duration, intensity, and overall occurrences of frozen feet. Tips and tricks for keeping your feet comfortably warm include:
- Avoid spending time in cold environments, including frozen food aisles or directly in front of the air conditioner.
- Avoid stepping on cold surfaces, especially on bare feet.
- Get regular exercise.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Manage stress.
- Use herbs and spices that improve circulation, such as:
- Black Pepper
- Ginko Biloba
- Hawthorn Berries
- Wear slippers in the house.
- Wear warm socks in cold weather.
Severe symptoms may require medication for relief. Some of the most commonly prescribed medications for poor circulation include calcium channel blockers. These improve circulation by relaxing the smallest blood vessels. Additionally, alpha-blockers counteract the vasoconstricting hormone norepinephrine. For those experiencing circulation-related wounds, nitroglycerin skin ointment may also be offered to heal ulcers.
Although cold feet are a common condition, they can sometimes reveal hidden disorders. Consulting with a medical professional can help rule out and treat underlying conditions. Once any underlying conditions have been revealed or ruled out, cardio exercises, a little extra time to relax, and a nice pair of warm socks certainly can’t hurt!
Warm Those Tootsies