What causes cold hands?

Cold hands are caused by a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions that include:

  • Anemia (decreased number of red blood cells)
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Buerger’s disease (also known as thromboangiitis obliterans, which is acute inflammation and obstruction of blood vessels in the fingers and toes – more common in smokers)
  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
  • Frostbite
  • Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (congenital heart defect that reduces blood flow to the body)
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Limited systemic sclerosis
  • Medications such as Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), which is used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon (episodes of blood vessel constriction in the fingers and toes triggered by cold temperatures or stress)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of cold hands

To diagnose the underlying cause of cold hands, your doctor or licensed health care provider will ask you questions about your symptoms. You can best help your health care provider in diagnosing the underlying cause of cold hands by providing complete answers to these questions:

  • Are you in pain?

  • Have you been exposed to cold temperatures recently?

  • How long have you had cold hands?

  • What medications are you taking?

  • What other symptoms do you have?

What are the potential complications of cold hands?

Cold hands can be caused by a serious underlying disease, disorder or condition such as diabetes, Raynaud’s phenomenon, frostbite, or hypothyroidism. Complications of these untreated or poorly managed diseases, disorders or conditions can be serious and even life threatening. Follow the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce your risk of complications including:

  • Birth defects and miscarriage

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Diabetes-related, life-threatening emergency conditions, including diabetic ketoacidosis, hyperosmolar hyperglycemic nonketotic syndrome (HHNS), and hypoglycemia

  • Diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and blindness

  • Hypothyroidism-related myxedema coma

  • Infertility

  • Kidney damage and kidney failure

  • Serious infections of skin tissues, gangrene (tissue death), and amputation

  • Stroke


  1. Frostbite. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000057.htm.
  2. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002096/.
  3. Raynaud's Phenomenon. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Raynauds_Phenomenon/default.asp.
  4. Thromboangiitis obliterans. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001225/.
  5. What Is Raynaud's? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/raynaud/ray_what.html.
  6. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.

What are cold hands?

It is normal for your hands to feel cold in cold or freezing weather because warm blood is pumped out from your heart, and your hands are relatively far from your heart.

Persistent cold hands or a feeling of cold hands when the temperature is not cold might be a sign of a circulatory disorder, blood vessel damage due to frostbite, or another disease, disorder or condition that aff... Read more about cold handsintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with cold hands?

Cold hands can occur with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that may occur with cold hands include:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 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