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Cold toes, numb feet, poor circulation

Shivering on a chilly day is often an inescapable part of life and usually nothing serious. There are times though, when feeling cold can't be cured by an extra sweater, a hot drink, or cranking up the thermostat. Feeling cold can be a sign of ill health or an underlying medical condition. Here are some of the reasons.


Diabetes can lead to hands and feet feeling numb and tingly.

It is caused by nerve damage, or neuropathy. It is not entirely clear how diabetes causes nerve damage, but high blood glucose levels are known to interfere with the nerves' ability to transmit signals.

The result is you may be less able to feel cold or pain and this loss of sensation could lead to skin damage.

A check for this kind of neuropathy should be carried out at your annual diabetes review. This should include looking for damage to the skin and a test that you can sense gentle touch and vibration. Your blood flow should also be checked.

Raynaud's disease

Raynaud's disease is a common condition that affects blood supply to parts of the body, particularly the fingers and toes. It is named after a 19th century French doctor, Maurice Raynaud, who first recognised the condition.

Raynaud's is usually triggered by cold weather, anxiety or stress. Blood vessels go into a temporary spasm, which blocks the flow of blood. Affected areas turn white, then blue and finally change to red as the blood flow returns.

Symptoms include pain, numbness and pins and needles.

The symptoms can be controlled by techniques such as avoiding cold temperatures and wearing gloves.

There is only one medication licensed for treating Raynaud's - nifedipine. Other drugs may be used "off-licence" to treat Raynaud’s.


The thyroid gland lies in the front of your neck in a position just below your Adam’s apple. It produces two hormones that regulate the speed with which body cells work.

The thyroid can either be overactive or underactive. An underactive thyroid is known as hypothyroidism.

Common symptoms are a slowing down of the body's mental and physical processes, as well as sensitivity to the cold.

It is estimated that one in 20 people has some kind of thyroid disorder, which may be temporary or permanent. According to the NHS around 15 in every 1,000 women, and around one in a 1,000 men have an underactive thyroid gland.

There are many forms of thyroid disorder and most can be treated.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder and also a serious mental health condition.

People with anorexia impose severe limitations on what they eat in order to keep their weight down.

As a result they may reach an unhealthily low body weight, with the result that their heartbeat slows and they develop poor circulation. This can result in feeling cold or having a low body temperature - a condition known as hypothermia.

Anorexia is a complicated illness and requires specialised treatment from a range of healthcare professionals, including a GP, specialist counsellor, a dietitian, and a psychiatrist.

WebMD Medical Reference

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