What can I do about icy extremities?
September 7, 2010 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Is there anything I can do to improve circulation to frigid hands and feet?

I have seriously cold hands and feet that bug the hell out of me. I don't have Raynauld's or diabetes, but my hands and feet are consistently cold when the rest of me is warm. I'm pretty sure it's an issue of poor circulation, as I've also noticed that cuts and scrapes on my hands and feet take a long time to heal. I already own Smartwool socks and wear multiple pairs of gloves at a time to deal with the beastly Chicago winter, but I don't know what to do inside climate controlled environments.

My biggest complaint is that my hands sometimes get so cold at work that they interfere with my ability to type. Aside from repeatedly balling my hands into fists like they tell you to before drawing blood, is there anything I can do to get more blood flowing to my extremities? I've heard ginger and spicy food can be good for this sort of thing, but I happen to be super sensitive to spicy food (it just feels like pain in my mouth) and I'd rather not burn my tongue off. I've also heard that massage can boost circulation, but I don't know exactly what to do.

Anybody else dealt with his issue?
posted by Mrs.Spiffy to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It appears that you have some degree of peripheral vascular disease. If you smoke cigarettes, you have to stop, cigarettes are contributing to the problem (nicotine is a vaso-constrictor). Peripheral vascular disease can also be connected to diabetes, and you should probably be tested for that.

Other than that, warm up your extremities in hot water (but not scaldingly hot, of course).
posted by grizzled at 12:55 PM on September 7, 2010

Have you had your thyroid checked? An underactive thyroid also can lead to what you're describing? It might be worth asking your doctor about, especially if you have female relatives who are hypothyroid.
posted by booksherpa at 12:57 PM on September 7, 2010

A former co-worker used to keep a mug of hot (i guess boiling... water for tea without the tea) water next to her, and hold it cupped in her hands whenever she wasn't using them both. May or may not be helpful, depending on the amount of time you need to be typing.
posted by brainmouse at 12:58 PM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do you ever exercise? I've found when I exercise this problem bothers me less.
posted by getawaysticks at 12:58 PM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had this problem for years. My doctor gave me some blood tests and we found out my iron was low. I started taking iron supplements and made sure I ate a full breakfast and eventually it went away.
Well, kind of. I don't take iron supplements anymore (just a multi vitamin) and my iron checked out okay last time - but I still get cold sometimes. but not as much as before.

The only thing that helped my feet before I started taking iron - were those foot warmer packs from Walgreens or wherever.
Hot chocolate helped warm my body up as well. Especially my hands. Just hold a hot mug of something.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:03 PM on September 7, 2010

KogeLiz, for what it's worth, anemia (low iron) is another underactive thyroid symptom.
posted by booksherpa at 1:05 PM on September 7, 2010

I'm curious what happens if you intentionally overheat your body. If you're indoors and you wear layers, a thick sweater, and a very warm hat, are your hands cold even then?

How does your body cool down in summer when you're hot?
posted by RobinFiveWords at 1:07 PM on September 7, 2010

I would definitely go to a doctor and get checked out.

That said, I came in to second getawaysticks on the exercise recommendation. I used to have very cold hands and feet and I didn't exercise at all; when I started exercising, the circulation to my extremities dramatically improved. Now my hands and feet are still on the cool side, but they aren't annoyingly cold. So if you don't exercise and you're otherwise healthy, maybe try 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day?
posted by kataclysm at 1:11 PM on September 7, 2010

Oh my! Yes, I struggle with this is well, and have my entire life. Never been able to get to the bottom of it as far as medical causes.

(for the record, I have never smoked, I exercise, and generally take care of myself.)

I have been tested for hypothyroidism, and told my levels are normal, but with additional information I have recently gleaned am going to insist on treatment to see if it helps. I tend towards being anemic and often am on iron supplements. While this helps energy levels, it doesn't help the cold extremety issue. I also have thick blood in extremeties, and slow healing.

Anyway, there are several ways I have learned to deal with this over the years ... which include:
1) elevating feet/legs whenever possible
2) A foot warmer
3) elastic/lycra craft gloves with half fingers
4) electric throw for over legs
5) electric cup warmer so mug is always warm ... use to warm hands

Best of luck to you.
posted by batikrose at 1:13 PM on September 7, 2010

Response by poster: I was recently tested for a bunch of autoimmune and endocrine diseases. I never got to look at the results (I work with lab results for a living, so I know what abnormal TSH and HA1c levels look like), but my PCP told me they were all normal. I am probably anemic (I've been turned away from several bloodmobiles), so iron might help.

I'm not really looking for a cause. I'm generally quite healthy and I'm not concerned about any underlying conditions. I was mostly wondering if there is anything non-medical I can do to increase blood flow (i.e. the mug of hot water - I am definitely going to try that one).
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 1:18 PM on September 7, 2010

Some coping strategies:

My mom has Raynauld's, and while I don't have all the symptoms, my hands are often freezing. As a simple solution, I went to Etsy and bought a pair of handwarmers - just make sure you get a non-bulky pair that look like they'll be easy to type in. Mine are similar in style to these, except crocheted.

I also keep mugs of tea around, as much for holding in my hands as for drinking.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:20 PM on September 7, 2010

N-thing see a doctor. There are numerous possible causes and (the good news) possibly some simple solutions. Depending on the cause there are some common medications that may help.

How sure are you that you don't have a mild degree of Raynaud's Disease? It's not uncommon, and if that's a component of your problem you can try a simple home remedy that was developed by the U.S. Army's Cold Research division back when it was headed by Murray Hamlet. It involves retraining your autonomic nervous system, by immersing your hands in warm water while the rest of your body is chilly.

Here is a description of the process.
posted by wjm at 1:23 PM on September 7, 2010

You need wrist warmers! They're wonderful! Have someone knit you some custom, or modify some fingerless gloves. A little extra soft wool on the wrist makes all the difference in the world. I live in mine.
posted by iiniisfree at 1:32 PM on September 7, 2010

Fingerless gloves at work?
posted by bluedaisy at 1:32 PM on September 7, 2010

If the environment is cold (a lot of offices go overboard on the air conditioning), your body may be moving blood away from your extremities to keep your core warm; wearing a sweater or something may help.

My boss at my last job had a similar problem and solved it with a very small space heater that she kept at her desk. (It was technically against the rules, so she found one that looked sort of like a radio so no one would confiscate it.)
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 1:51 PM on September 7, 2010

In my last apartment, there were heating "issues" such that it'd be in the lower 40's in my living room at night, in winter. To get through the last few weeks of NaNoWriMo, I used:

Hot cocoa,
Gloves with just the tips snipped off (I used fleece gloves so they wouldn't unravel,)
Nylon knee-highs under my socks and on my arms,
Long sleeves/layers,
Ear muffs, and,
Frequent trips to the bathroom to wash my hands in hot water.

I tend towards cold arms/hands and feet, too, am low iron, and all my numbers check out, as well. I feel for you. Though not so bad, it sounds like.
posted by SMPA at 1:55 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

My sister bought me a pair of USB heated gloves a few years ago: http://www.perpetualkid.com/usb-heated-g-gloves.aspx?utm_source=googlebase&utm_medium=cse&utm_content=USBL-0600-XX&utm_campaign=googlebasecse

I only break them out at work when desperate b/c: 1) it's a major power draw on the PC and 2) I'm afraid some day I'll forget I have them on upon rising from my chair and drag the whole CPU with me. That being said, I heart them.

Nthing the hot mug of water/tea/coffee. I use a candle warmer on my desk to keep my hot tea hot.
posted by iceprincess324 at 1:59 PM on September 7, 2010

I have the same problem; perhaps not as severely. I have not tried this cream yet, but I am tempted.
posted by jgirl at 2:47 PM on September 7, 2010

I have this problem like crazy, but less so when I wear a hat. I know, it doesn't cover either my hands or my feet, and it looks a little silly in an office environment, but it somehow keeps me warm. I also discovered last winter that wearing my beloved SmartWool socks actually makes my feet colder in a lot of situations, presumably because they're a bit tight and therefore limit circulation. Pushing the tops down so they're slouched around my ankles helps a bit, but in general my feet stay way warmer in loose-but-fluffy socks like the novelty ones I found at Target.

Also, nth-ing the suggestion for fingerless gloves/mittens and/or wrist-warmers.
posted by vytae at 2:48 PM on September 7, 2010

[anecdotal armchair science warning]
Alcohol is a vasodilator and causes blood to rush to your extremities, which warms them up. I'm not saying you should booze it up at work, but do you drink a lot of coffee? Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, so maybe it's having the opposite effect. Maybe replacing coffee with a decaffeinated warm beverage option would be good?
posted by phunniemee at 3:46 PM on September 7, 2010

Waving your arms around in circles can force the blood into your hands and warm them.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:26 PM on September 7, 2010

I do have Raynaud's, and I usually use a heating pad on my feet in the evening. I only use it for 5-10 minutes and once my feet are warmed up, they usually stay warm the rest of the night.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:20 PM on September 7, 2010

I have this problem (and do occasionally suffer from anemia; haven't checked for a year or two to see how I'm doing). I'm always colder than everyone else. I own lots of arm warmers and fingerless gloves, and I have armies of socks. When it's going to be really chilly, I break out the knee and thigh high socks, because the extra layer really helps.

Arm warmers are a godsend for when I need to type and it's really cold. I buy mine from Sock Dreams. They have a really nice basic black fingerless glove for about $9 (no extra shipping cost) and I adore them. When it's chilly but not quite that cold, I like their simple shorter ones that have a thumb tube (not just a hole).

I really should get this check out... But for now this helps me cope, and they really make a huge difference.
posted by quirks at 10:48 AM on September 8, 2010

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