We’ve all heard of a bride or groom “getting cold feet” before walking down the aisle, but for people with diabetes, having cold feet takes on another meaning entirely.
What causes cold feet?
- Diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a form of nerve damage, is one of the most common causes of cold feet. About sixty to seventy percent of people with diabetes develop some form of neuropathy over time. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is actually the cause of all kinds of symptoms, including tingling, burning, or sensitivity to touch. Your feet might seem warm to the touch, but feel cold to you. Symptoms may worsen at night.
- Poor circulation is another common cause of cold feet. Poor circulation makes it more challenging for your heart to pump warm blood to your extremities, keeping your feet cooler than the rest of your body.
- Peripheral artery disease, caused by clogged arteries in your legs, can reduce circulation and lead to cold feet. This could be a sign of something more serious, like increased risk for heart attack or stroke, but your doctor can usually detect it by checking the pulse in your legs.
- Certain medications, particularly those that cause blood vessels to constrict, can cause cold feet. Popular medications associated with cold feet are those to treat blood pressure, migraine headaches, and head colds. Talk to your pharmacist if you start to experience cold feet after starting a particular medication.
- Hypothyroidism is a condition caused by an underactive thyroid. Low levels of thyroid hormone interfere with your body’s metabolism, contributing to reduced circulation and colder feet.
Other causes of cold feet
- Restless legs syndrome (RLS), a neurological disorder that causes funny sensations in your legs when at rest, such as creeping, crawling, aching—and, sometimes, cold sensations on the skin of your legs that can be relieved by moving them.
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome, a type of nerve disease caused by compression of the nerves in the ankle and foot. This is more common in people with diabetes than the general population.
- Raynaud’s phenomenon, in which blood vessels spasm and restrict blood flow to your extremities.
How can cold feet be treated?
Prevention is the best treatment. People with diabetes can have a decreased capacity for healing, especially in the feet. And because of this, the risk of amputation increases. Use the following tips to warm up and prevent damage to your feet:
- Keep your surroundings at a comfortable temperature. This varies from person to person. Room temperature is considered 20°C (68 °F) to 28°C (82.4 °F).
- Avoid going barefoot, both inside and outside.
- Wear well-fitting socks and shoes for every occasion. Wear shoes with faux fur, fur, or sheepskin lining. Remember to make sure the sole of your shoe is hard enough that a tack wouldn’t go through it.
- Avoid hot water bottles, electric heaters, electric blankets, heated socks and shoes, and hot baths. These can burn your skin, and you may not know it until it’s too late, especially if you have neuropathy.
- Check your feet regularly for blisters, cuts, wounds, or other troubling changes. If you notice anything, talk to your healthcare provider to prevent things from getting worse.
- If you experience frostbite, elevate your feet, and keep them clean, dry, and covered. Contact your healthcare provider right away. This can be a medical emergency.
Talk with your healthcare provider about other causes of cold feet, such as RLS, circulation problems, hypothyroidism, or medications.
Updated by Julia Telfer, MPH, 9/17.