Medically reviewed by William Ross Perlman, PhD, CMPP on December 16, 2019. Written by Karen Eisenbraun. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Do you often find yourself wondering, “Why am I so cold all the time?” If so, you may be experiencing cold sensitivity (also known as cold intolerance)—you feel chilly in temperatures that many or most other people feel comfortable in. It’s also possible that only certain parts of your body (like your hands and feet) often feel cold.
Regardless of how cold sensitivity specifically affects you, understanding the possible causes can help inform your next steps—so keep reading to learn more about the common causes of cold sensitivity, treatment, and more.
Body temperature is regulated by several different systems throughout the body, including a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus and pituitary glands send messages to different parts of the body to generate heat or cool down. For example, the pituitary gland sends signals to the thyroid gland to regulate the body’s metabolic rate. The thyroid has to produce the right amount of hormones for the body to burn calories and generate heat efficiently.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland situated at the front of the neck. It produces hormones that help regulate different processes in the body.
If your thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, the result is an underactive thyroid (called hypothyroidism). If your thyroid is underactive, it can impair your body’s ability to regulate body temperature—which can lead to cold sensitivity—because the thyroid has to produce the right amount of hormones for the body to effectively generate heat from the food you eat. Beyond cold sensitivity, possible symptoms of hypothyroidism include dry skin, fatigue, thinning hair, irregular menstrual periods, and weight gain.
You can check your thyroid hormone levels from the convenience of home with the Everlywell at-home Thyroid Test. The test only requires a small blood sample (collected with a simple finger prick) that you send to a lab for testing using the prepaid shipping label included with the kit.
Anemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells—which are important for health because they deliver fresh oxygen to vital organs and transport carbon dioxide back to the lungs to be exhaled.
There are different types of anemia, and cold intolerance is a symptom of many of them. Other common symptoms include fatigue, pale skin, and irregular heartbeat.
In peripheral artery disease (PAD), the body’s arteries narrow due to a buildup of fatty plaque. This restricts the flow of blood to the legs and feet, which can make these parts of the body feel cold or numb. Other symptoms of PAD include a change of color in the legs, painful cramps, slowed toenail growth, and more.
Some people with diabetes suffer from kidney damage, known as diabetic nephropathy, which can cause cold intolerance as well as nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, and/or swelling in the face, feet, or hands.
When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, it typically limits the flow of blood to the skin to minimize excessive loss of body temperature and preserve the temperature of internal organs. If you have Raynaud’s disease, however, arteries in the hands constrict too much when external temperatures are cool or when you experience emotional stress. As a result, your fingers may be unusually sensitive to colder temperatures; they may also change color—to blue, white, or both—when exposed to cool temperatures (or during periods of emotional stress).
Raynaud’s disease isn’t an especially rare condition: estimates suggest that up to 10% of the general population has it. The exact cause of primary Raynaud’s disease is unclear. However, a number of health and lifestyle conditions can trigger secondary Raynaud’s disease, including autoimmune diseases, untreated infections like hepatitis C, certain types of medication, and smoking.
If you’re regularly experiencing cold intolerance, consider talking with your healthcare provider. You may need a complete physical exam and laboratory tests to determine if you have an underlying health condition that’s contributing to your cold sensitivity.
The treatment for cold intolerance depends on the underlying cause, and it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider to find out what treatment approach is right for you. That being said, here are a few examples of treatments sometimes used for various health conditions related to cold sensitivity:
Hypothyroidism: Treatment for an underactive thyroid often involves thyroid hormone replacement to help boost low thyroid hormone levels.
Anemia: If anemia is due to nutritional deficiencies, supplementation with iron and/or other nutrients (such as vitamin B12 and folate) may be used for treatment.
Raynaud’s disease: Treatment for Raynaud’s disease may include medications known as dihydropyridine calcium channel blockers or phosphodiesterase inhibitors.
While body chills often occur alongside a fever, being cold does not necessarily indicate an infection. A person can feel sensitive to cooler temperatures for many potential reasons, including hypothyroidism, anemia, and other health conditions. But in some instances—such as in certain kinds of secondary Raynaud’s disease—sensitivity to cold may be related to an infection.
Autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. In an autoimmune disorder, the immune system attacks healthy tissue in the body, like the thyroid gland. Pituitary and hypothalamic gland dysfunctions can also lead to hypothyroidism—among other possible causes.
You can check your thyroid hormone levels from the comfort of home with the Everlywell Thyroid Test. The test only requires a small blood sample (collected with a simple finger prick) that you send to a lab for testing using the prepaid shipping label included with the kit. Plus, you can conveniently view your results on our secure, online platform—and easily share them with your healthcare provider.
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