How to Understand What Causes Cold Hands and Fingers

By Kristie Leong M.D., eHow Member

Do you suffer from cold fingers and hands even when it’s not cold outside? While it’s normal to experience cold fingers and hands when you step outside on a blustery day, some people have this experience when temperatures are more moderate. What causes cold fingers and hands?

Sometimes cold fingers and hands can be brought on by something as simple as stress. If you’ve ever reached out your hand to greet a nervous candidate who’s interviewing for a job, you may have noticed that their hand felt cold and clammy. The reason? When you’re fearful or under stress, your nervous system reacts by constricting blood vessels in the extremities, effectively shunting blood away from the hands and feet back towards the heart. This may give some credence to the phrase, “cold hands, warm heart”. At the same time, the hands become cold, sweaty and clammy to the touch. People who are constantly nervous often have cold hands, particularly if they smoke which further reduces circulation to the hands and feet.

A lesser known, but still relatively common cause of cold fingers and hands is a condition known as Raynaud’s syndrome. People who have Raynaud’s syndrome have unusually reactive blood vessels in the hands. In response to even mildly depressed temperatures, the hands and fingers may become cold and numb and even manifest color changes ranging from white to purple. This can occur sometimes with something as simple as touching a cold object for a few seconds. Although the exact cause of this syndromeisn’t known, it’s believed to inflict up to fifteen percent of the population to some degree with women being more commonly affected than men.

In rare cases, cold hands can be caused by more serious problems such as heart disease, arthritic disorders, or diseases that affect the circulatory system, but these causes are generally associated with other symptoms.

Whether you experience cold fingers and hands from chronic nervous or from Raynaud’s syndrome, it’s important to avoid making the problem worse. Stress management is important to keep the nervous system from constricting blood flow to the hands. Smoking is another activity that should be avoided if cold hands are a problem. It’s also important to avoid tight or constrictive clothing on the upper body. Of course, when you venture outside in cold weather, you’ll want to have your hands and fingers covered with a good pair of gloves. In some cases, medications known as calcium channel blockers are used to treat cold fingers and hands associated with Raynaud’s syndrome.

If you’re experiencing other symptoms with your cold fingers and hands, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to rule out more serious causes such as heart disease, arthritic diseases, or problems with circulation.