All About Cold Feet
All About Cold Feet
By Dr. Suzanne Levine
When was the last time someone told you she had “cold feet” about doing something– getting married, going skiing, having a baby? “Having cold feet” means having a case of nervous jitters. And nerves are one of the keys to the problem of icy cold feet.
Why are your feet always so cold?
Your feet get cold because your warm blood isn’t circulating properly through the veins and arteries into your legs and out to your toes. Normally, the skin temperature down there should range between 75 and 90 degrees F. If it drops below 65 degrees, you’ve got a problem with your vascular, or circulatory, system. Your arteries, the smaller-sized blood vessels called arterioles, and your veins aren’t letting enough blood through.
Your nervous system plays a significant part in determining how much blood gets through. If you are disturbed about something or under a great deal of stress, nerves can constrict the little arterioles in your feet and lessen their ability to carry blood, giving you cold feet. At the other emotional extreme is the person (“hot under the collar”) whose nervous system sends excess blood through when the pressure is on. This is called vasodilation of the blood vessels, and it can make you hot all over.
How can cigarettes make your feet cold?
Believe it or not, smoking tobacco is a major cause of cold feet. You probably already know that you put your heart and your lungs at risk when you smoke, but you may never have blamed cigarettes for your cold feet. The nicotine makes your blood vessels tighten up, or constrict, and since it works on your entire nervous system, it affects these arterioles in your feet as well as in other areas. When they handed the cigarette and cup of hot coffee to recovering victims in those old movies, they weren’t doing them any favors. Amphetamines, diet pills Dexatrim, and some other medications work the same way. Take a look at what you are taking in on a regular basis if you want to get clues to your coldness.
How bad can the blood flow really be?
After inhaling one cigarette, the blood flow to your feet may be reduced by as much as 50 percent! When does it pick up again? Sometimes not for an hour after that single cigarette. So you can imagine what happens if you’re smoking two or three packs a day. The more you smoke, the colder you get. What’s diabolical about this is that you probably pick up another cigarette to try to warm yourself up.
What are some of the circulatory disorders keeping your feet cold?
Raynaud’s Disease: This is a relatively common disorder I see in women between ages twenty and forty whose hands and feet get very cold and even numb on occasion. Toes and fingertips suffer the most. If you have this problem, you already know that the attacks come and go without warning, and winter is the worst time of year. Rest assured. Raynaud’s Disease is not a serious circulatory disease. It’s simply an uncomfortable condition that seems to be triggered by cold weather and a bad habit like smoking. Go to a doctor’s office for a professional opinion because your symptoms can mirror those of something more serious with the same first name. Raynaud’s Syndrome is another matter and something to worry about.
Raynaud’s Syndrome: This is a disorder which arises from the inability of your arteries to dilate and send blood where it is supposed to go. The attacks are episodic and seem to be brought on by cold temperatures, much like that of Raynaud’s Disease. It is linked to various underlying systemic diseases, such as collagen diseases, lead or nicotine toxicity, or neurovascular trauma.
The key to treatment for Raynaud’s Syndrome is to avoid the cold. In severe cases, in which the numbing gets out of hand, a physician may suggest a sympathectomy, a surgical procedure in which some sympathetic nerves to the foot or hand are cut.
Buerger’s Disease: Also known as thromboangiitis obliterans, this syndrome shows up in adult men who haven’t passed their fortieth birthday. What happens is that small arteries and arterioles in the legs and feet constrict and refuse to let the proper amount of blood pass through. The difference with Buerger’s disease is that actual tissue will be destroyed in the long run, turning ulcerous and eventually becoming gangrenous.
The fundamental treatment for Buerger’s disease is to stay away from cigarette smoke. Don’t smoke yourself, and don’t inhale smoke from others. Sometimes medication to make your blood vessels open up or dilate is prescribed, but this isn’t always very successful.
Will exercise help your cold toes?
Yes. Exercise can definitely improve your circulation and warm your feet up. Get out there and start walking.
Is there any other basic advice for avoiding cold feet?
Never wear constricting undergarments like stockings that are too tight or underpants which cut painfully into the top of your legs. Girdles don’t help your problem at all. Try not to cross your legs when you are sitting down.