If you have a low BMI or less body fat, you may feel the cold more intensely. Conditions like anemia, anorexia, Raynaud phenomenon, peripheral arterial disease, and fibromyalgia also cause cold intolerance. An underactive thyroid or a problem with the functioning of your hypothalamus can also leave you feeling too cold.
Do you tend to bundle up even when people around you just don’t seem to be feeling the cold? Some people may have a natural tendency to feel colder. For instance, if you’re the only woman in the room, the thermostat may be set too low for your liking – women tend to prefer a temperature that’s about 2.5°C higher than men do. If you are skinnier than the next person, that may affect you too (more on that later). But if you are perpetually cold even after bundling up in warm clothes or when everyone around is comfortable, or if certain body parts like the hands or feet always stay cold, it’s time to look at possible causes.
The temperature of your body is regulated by a complex mechanism involving many different systems. The hypothalamus in the brain acts as a kind of internal thermostat, sending out signals to control heat or cool the body down. It also instructs the thyroid gland to decrease or increase metabolism. Your thyroid gland plays a significant role as well, regulating your metabolic rate and overseeing the burning of calories to generate heat and energy. Your body fat helps to maintain body heat while blood flow spreads this heat through the body. While people who are in poor health or who suffer from severe chronic illnesses may often feel cold more intensely, a problem with any of the body systems in charge of heat can also throw things out of whack and cause cold intolerance. Here are some possibilities you need to explore.
1. You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
If you thought that the worst thing about a sleepless night is a grumpy morning where you’re barely able to function, think again. It can also mess up the way your body temperature is managed. Your body’s regulation of temperature is closely linked to sleep. Studies have found that sleep deprivation increases heat loss from the feet and reduces heat loss from the hands.
Anemia is usually one of the most common reasons for cold intolerance, especially if your extremities (hands, feet) feel cold all the time. When your body is anemic, it won’t have sufficient healthy red blood cells needed to supply oxygen to your body tissues. Your body uses the existing red blood cells to supply oxygen to vital organs and, consequently, circulation to your extremities take a hit.
If you are anemic, you may also experience symptoms like tiredness or weakness, trouble concentrating, and headaches. As the condition worsens, you may also notice a blue tinge in the whites of your eyes, brittle nails, pale skin, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness when you stand up.
Immune system problems and chronic illnesses such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis, and blood loss from stomach ulcers can cause anemia. So can deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, and folic acid which are needed by your body to make red blood cells.
3. Too Little Body Fat Or Being Underweight
Body fat acts as insulation. If you have too little, you might feel the cold more keenly. Also, if you are underweight (BMI under 18.5), the body has fewer calories to burn for heat. Your metabolism slows down as the body smartly reserves the precious calories and you feel the cold more intensely.
4. Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia is an eating disorder where people starve themselves and lose excessive amounts of weight. This can mean a low level of body fat and the resultant lack of insulation to keep warm. While it’s exactly clear why this condition develops, hormones and genes may play a part. Cultural attitudes that prefer thin body types may be involved too. Some red flags associated with anorexia include severely limiting food intake, a distorted body image, and excessive exercising.
5. Raynaud Phenomenon
Raynaud phenomenon is a disease where strong emotions or cold temperature causes blood vessels to spasm. This checks blood flow to the ears, fingers, toes, and nose. These body parts may first turn white and then blue. As blood flow returns, affected parts may turn red and then go back to normal color. In many cases, this disease is not linked to another health condition. However, some conditions and factors are known to cause Raynaud phenomenon, including:
- Medicines which cause your arteries to become narrow such as certain beta-blockers and cancer drugs
- Some medications used to treat migraines and amphetamines
- Diseases which affect your arteries such as Buerger disease and atherosclerosis
- Autoimmune conditions like systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjögren syndrome, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis
- Certain blood disorders like cryoglobulinemia and cold agglutinin disease
- Thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition where nerves or blood vessels between your first rib and collarbone get compressed
- A repeated injury that may be caused by regular use of vibrating machines or hand tools
6. Peripheral Arterial Disease
Feet or legs that are always cold is a common indicator of peripheral arterial disease (PAD). People with PAD have blockages in arteries supplying blood to the legs due to the build-up of plaque. Other than cold feet, symptoms include pain in the lower leg while walking and sometimes during rest, numbness in the legs or feet, ulcers on the feet or legs, and blue toes. People with diabetes have a higher risk of PAD since high blood sugar can damage the walls of blood vessels, making them more prone to the build-up of plaque.
People with diabetes have abnormally high blood sugar levels. And this can cause nerve damage, with nerves in the feet and legs being affected most often. You might experience a sensation of numbness or a feeling of coldness, burning, pain, or, tingling in your legs or feet as a result. Kidney damage associated with uncontrolled diabetes (diabetic nephropathy) can also leave you feeling cold all the time.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that results in widespread pain across the body. People with this condition may not be able to regulate their body temperature properly and often end up feeling too cold or too hot. Other signs include fatigue, an increased sensitivity to pain, trouble sleeping, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and problems with concentration and memory.
9. Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism)
Being cold all the time could be a telltale sign of hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland doesn’t produce sufficient thyroid hormone in people who have this condition. Without enough of the hormone, your metabolism slows down, affecting your body’s ability to keep itself warm. Other than an increased sensitivity to cold, hypothyroidism can cause symptoms like tiredness, dry hair and skin, muscle aches, weight gain, and even depression.
10. Hypothalamic Dysfunction
The hypothalamus is the part of your brain that makes hormones which control your body temperature as well as many other functions such as hunger, mood, sleep, sex drive etc. A problem with the functioning of this area of the brain can make you feel unusually cold. Because your hypothalamus controls such a wide range of functions hypothalamic disease can result in a range of symptoms. Some common ones are low body temperature, slow heart rate, frequent urination and extreme thirst, and an increase in appetite and sudden weight gain. Various factors such as infection, inflammation, genetic problems, or a brain injury due to surgery, trauma, or radiation can cause hypothalamic dysfunction.