Why Are My Hands So Cold?

Q. My hands are always cold, and sometimes my fingers turn white. I was told I might have Raynaud’s. What is that?

A. Raynaud’s phenomenon is a common cause of cold hands. This condition causes small arteries in the fingers and toes to constrict, decreasing the blood supply and causing the affected area to become pale, cold, and sometimes numb.

During an attack, the affected digits typically display three phases of color change—going from white to blue to red. Once the attack ends, throbbing and tingling may occur in the fingers or toes. Attacks are often triggered by exposure to cold or by emotional events.

There are two forms of the condition: primary Raynaud’s, in which there is no underlying disease, and secondary Raynaud’s, which is most often associated with connective tissue diseases, such as scleroderma and lupus.

Primary Raynaud’s appears in people ages 15 to 30, and secondary in older adults, so if you’re experiencing first-time symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor for a complete evaluation to look for other possible medical problems. Severe cases can damage skin tissue, leading to sores or gangrene.

Other possible causes of secondary Raynaud’s include blood vessel disease; blood disorders; repetitive actions like typing; working with vibrating tools like jackhammers; and some drugs for colds, migraines, high blood pressure, and cancer.

You can help prevent attacks by avoiding sudden cold exposure, dressing to keep your whole body warm, not smoking, and learning ways to reduce stress.

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HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into Healthcentral.com in 2018.