Health

Doctors Explain What Getting Cold Super Easily Can Mean

What it means if it’s always sweater weather for you.

A woman wearing a blanket drinks a mug of tea. If you get cold easily it could be a sign of 9 health...
Studio4/E+/Getty Images
Updated: 
Originally Published: 

If you always feel cold, no matter how many clothes you pile on or how high you crank up the heat, it may simply mean you prefer warmer climates and sunnier days. But if you get cold easily, or consistently need eight sweaters more than others, it may also be a sign of a health issue.

Your body has a lot of cool mechanisms to help keep you at a comfy temperature — you've got sweat glands and blood circulation to your extremities, and even a specific part of your brain that's all about regulating your temperature. But if something is off-kilter about your circulation, for example, your apartment heater might hear about it constantly. And lots of conditions impact your body's temperature regulators. It's not necessarily all doom and gloom — but it does mean you might want to keep an extra eye (or... mitten) on your body temp.

It's fine if you feel cold occasionally. And it's obviously common to be chilly on a blustery day. But if you're always cold, or seem to get cold more easily than others, let your doctor know. Here are some of the health issues your chilliness may be pointing to, according to doctors.

1

Anemia

If you tend to feel like a human popsicle, no matter how many blankets you pile on top of yourself, it could be a sign of iron deficiency anemia, especially if you have icy hands and feet.

"The basic definition of anemia is a decreased number or decreased function of red blood cells circulating throughout the body, which results in a reduced amount of oxygen in the body," says Dr. Sanjeev Jain, M.D., a doctor double-board certified in immunology and internal medicine at Columbia Asthma and Allergy Clinic. With decreased circulation comes a heaping helping of the shivers, especially at your extremities.

Other symptoms of anemia include ongoing fatigue, dizziness, paleness, weakness, and an irregular heartbeat. Some forms of anemia are hereditary, but pregnant folks can also suffer from iron-deficiency anemia due to menstruation and pregnancy. Your doctor can do a blood test to determine if you're anemic, and suggest the right course of action.

2

Underactive Thyroid

If you have hypothyroidism, otherwise known as an underactive thyroid, you might feel chilly even on the warmest days.

That's because the thyroid gland affects and is affected by the hypothalamus, "which is a gland at the base of the brain that controls our temperature and our perception of our temperature," Dr. Richard Honaker, M.D., a family medicine physician, tells Bustle. "Our endocrine organs (metabolism glands and thyroid gland) secret chemicals that affect the hypothalamus and vice versa [...] It can be a signal from your body to get a check-up and some lab work."

Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, dry skin, thinning hair, depression, and impaired memory. So if that sounds familiar, let a doctor know.

3

Cancer

"Undiagnosed cancer can result in feeling cold, chills, weakness," family and emergency medicine doctor, Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, M.D., tells Bustle. But it's important not to jump to this conclusion simply because you're chilly.

The best thing to do if you're concerned is to make an appointment with your doctor. "See you doctor for regular routine visits, exams (i.e., mammograms, colonoscopy, regular blood work)," Dr. Nesheiwat says. "This is how we can pick up disease early [...] Prevention and early detection of disease is key to better prognosis."

4

Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you might struggle with feeling cold all the time, due to the way the disease affects circulation. "High blood sugar over time suppresses the immune system, and reduces blood circulation in tissues," Dr. Jain tells Bustle. That reduced circulation might be responsible for some of your need for double blankets.

Severe diabetes can also lead to kidney damage, known as diabetic nephropathy. Symptoms of diabetic nephropathy include feeling cold all the time, as well as itchiness, loss of appetite, and nausea. But it's important to not panic, and instead talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

5

Anxiety

Believe it or not, anxiety can cause you to feel cold all the time — but especially so in moments of panic. "If you feel cold, if you are shivering, you could be cold, you could be ill. But you also could be nervous or anxious," clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., tells Bustle. "When we are nervous our muscles tense, the blood is restricted to our vital organs, and we can literally feel cold."

Your body is trying to protect itself from whatever threat it's perceiving, but all that restricted blood flow to your extremities can definitely lead to a case of the chills. They might be more sustained, too. "When the body detects stress for long periods of time, it can not sustain its response to the psychological or physiological stressors," Dr. Jain says, which means that anxiety can heighten your body's sensitivity to external stimuli (like cold).

6

Infections

If your body is rundown with an infection, you may start to feel cold, Dr. Nesheiwat says. You might have a case of the chills, or feel like you can't get warm, even when you're under a lot of blankets. This is a cry for help from your body to rest and take better care of yourself.

To help prevent bacterial and viral infections — such as the flu — you should "stay up-to-date with vaccines, immunizations, [and] get enough sleep," Dr. Nesheiwat says. Doing so will bolster your immune system, so you'll be less likely to get sick.

7

Raynaud’s Disease

If you have a condition called Raynaud's disease, you may experience coldness and numbness in your extremities to a more intense degree than others.

"Raynaud’s is a condition in which the peripheral blood vessels constrict too much in response to a cold environment," says Dr. Aaron Clark, D.O., a family medicine physician. "Raynaud’s can be just a normal response to cold, but, in some people, it creates too strong of a constriction in the blood vessels in their hands or feet. The fingers might turn white and then purple or blue because they aren’t getting enough blood."

So if your hands and feet appear to "overreact" to temperature changes, you may want to see a doctor. "Eventually the fingers or toes will turn red once the blood vessel constricting stops and the hands or feet start to warm back up," Dr. Clark says. "[But this] reduced blood flow can cause damage in some people. Severe Raynaud’s can lead to skin breakdown and ulcerations on the skin of the fingers or toes."

8

Lupus

If you have an autoimmune disease such as lupus, you might be more prone to being cold than others, Dr. Nesheiwat says. Other symptoms of lupus, which is also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, include achy joints, unexplained fever, face rashes, hair loss, and pain in the chest when breathing deeply.

9

Dehydration

"Appropriate hydration is necessary for cellular and tissue function and for appropriate transport of other substances throughout the body," Dr. Jain tells Bustle. If you're not getting the water that you need, though, those processes are disturbed.

Whenever you're dehydrated, the body begins to direct blood flow to the most important areas, such as your heart, brain, and lungs, Dr. Nesheiwat says. Your skin, toes, nose, fingertips, and other non-vital bits will have less circulation, and feel colder as a result. The remedy for this is simple: drink more water. You can always shoot for the classic eight glasses of water a day, but the real barometer should be your thirst levels. If you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated, so stay on top it by drinking throughout the day.

Experts:

Dr. Sanjeev Jain, M.D., doctor double-board certified in immunology and internal medicine, Columbia Asthma and Allergy Clinic

Dr. Richard Honaker, M.D., family medicine physician

Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, M.D., family and emergency medicine doctor

Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist

Dr. Aaron Clark, D.O., family medicine physician