Emporium: My Feet Are Always Cold

Is this Raynaud's phenomenon?

medman 615 230.jpg

ELEANOR BARKHORN: I'm cold all the time, especially in my feet. There are some days when my feet are cold all day long.

JAMES HAMBLIN: That's no good at all. 

But also not uncommon

google box cold feet.jpg

ELEANOR: Well it's especially true with me. 

JAMES: I know, I know.

ELEANOR: People also complain that the office is cold, but they don't have the cold-feet-all-day problem. 

What's wrong with me?

JAMES: Well, according to the first thing on Google: "Neetu Nirdosh, a doctor who specializes in anti-aging ... says: 'It can certainly be to do with aging as, once we get older, our once buoyant blood supply becomes limp.'"

Maybe your blood supply is limp.

But you are only 28, and in good health, and you run every day, so I don't think your blood supply is limp.

Did you know anti-aging is a specialty?

ELEANOR: If my blood supply were limp, how would I re-invigorate it? Is there Viagra for blood?

JAMES: Yeah I mean Viagra was developed as a blood pressure medication. It didn't work like they hoped, but it did give everyone erections.

ELEANOR: Hm. I don't think Viagra is going to make my feet warmer.

JAMES: Well, it dilates blood vessels. That's how it fills penises. So it might.

People do recommend avoiding cigarettes and caffeine if you have cold feet, which, oppositely, narrow blood vessels.  

But you already do that basically.

Anyway this is a very common thing that's for some reason more common in women than men. Lots of people go online and diagnose themselves as having hypothyroidism or Raynaud's phenomenon. Most don't, and the best medicine is, like they say, more socks.

ELEANOR: WHAT IS RAYNAUD'S PHENOMENON AND/OR HYPOTHYROIDISM!?

JAMES: Wait wasn't it you who mentioned Raynaud's this morning?

ELEANOR: No

JAMES: Well maybe I just associate with a lot of people who say they get it. Corby definitely said he did, and someone else in the office.

ELEANOR: Maybe you are spreading Raynaud's phenomenon across the country.

JAMES: Ah, I would feel terrible.

[Ed. note: Not understood to be a contagious condition

When you're cold, it's normal for the blood vessels near your skin to get narrower. That makes your hands and feet, which are already farthest from your warm heart, even colder than they were because of the cold air alone. 

ELEANOR: Mine get very narrow.

JAMES: Raynaud's is when that narrowing happens more than the normal amount, which causes a finger or toe or whole hand or foot to change color. It usually comes on very quickly and turns very blue or white. 

Typically one finger, or possibly a toe, changes color, and then that spreads to both hands or feet. It hurts or tingles or goes numb. And then when the blood does return, the hands/feet turn bright red.

ELEANOR: Overcompensating

JAMES: Yeah

The blood vessels are actually having a spasm, so, I think the most interesting thing about all this it's not only caused by cold, but sometimes by emotions. 

ELEANOR: So people get stressed and they lose blood flow to their fingers?

JAMES: Yes, that happens.

Stress can do pretty much anything.

Also interesting, I'm reading, 17 percent of people in France have it, but only 5 percent of people in the U.S. have it. At least in one study

Other places say as many as 20 percent of people get it.

ELEANOR: But this wouldn't explain my all-day-cold feet.

JAMES: No, I'm sorry. 

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

More in Health

Just In