What causes cold feet?

Cold feet can be a symptom of several conditions, including nerve damage (called peripheral neuropathy), sometimes seen in diabetes (a chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy), chronic alcohol abuse, or in certain vitamin deficiencies. Cold feet can also be a symptom of poor circulation of the blood to these distant, or peripheral, parts of the body.

Circulatory causes of cold feet

Cold feet may be caused by peripheral artery disease (PAD), also called peripheral vascular disease, (PVD), which is a narrowing or blockage of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, a condition which limits blood flow to the extremities.

Neurologic causes of cold feet

Cold feet can also be caused by nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy) caused by:

  • Certain vitamin deficiencies
  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of cold feet

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your cold feet including:

  • When do you perceive cold feet?
  • Has anyone in your family had a heart or blood vessel disease?
  • If you have leg pains with your cold feet, where do you feel these pains, exactly? What part of your leg? How is the pain affected by walking or climbing stairs? By exercising? By sitting or standing?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you have diabetes?
  • How is your diet? Can you describe typical meals you might have on an average day?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of cold feet?

Because cold feet can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Chronic pain
  • Gangrene
  • Increased risk of infection in the affected area
  • Loss of limb
  • Permanent nerve damage

References:

What is peripheral arterial disease? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Diseases and Conditions Index. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/pad/pad_what.html. Accessed May 21, 2011.

Stafford MA. Is poor circulation giving you a case of cold feet? UAB Medicine. http://www.health.uab.edu/13376/. Accessed May 21, 2011.

INTRODUCTION

What are cold feet?

Having cold feet is often a normal condition, usually in response to cold temperatures or as a response to anxiety. In cold conditions, blood vessels in your feet and other areas, such as your nose, constrict to help minimize heat loss. This decrease in blood flow leads to decreased oxygen in these peripheral parts o... Read more about cold feetintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with cold feet?

Cold feet may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the cardiovascular system may also involve other body systems.... Read more about cold feetsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation