Are you the kind of person who always needs a pile of blankets no matter what the thermostat says? Sure, we all feel the freeze on a cold winter’s day or the mechanical chill of the office air conditioner. But if you’re constantly shivering no matter the temp, there may be more going on.
Plenty of people are simply warm-natured (as in, prefer it to be warmer!), and any temperature below a certain threshold will induce a chill. But a few medical issues could also be responsible, all of which deserve the attention of your healthcare provider. To better understand the possibilities, we talked to internal medicine specialist Janet Morgan, MD.
One condition with which feeling cold is often connected is anemia. There are a few different types of anemia, but the main result of each is the same: A drop in red blood cells. That drop also means your body isn’t getting its necessary amount of oxygen, which results in that chilly feeling.
“When you’re lacking oxygen, you get that cold feeling and fatigue,” says Dr. Morgan. Other symptoms of anemia that she notes include:
- Paleness. Besides pale skin, there are other places you’ll notice paleness, including your nailbeds, your lower eyelid and your gums.
- Shortness of breath.
- Restless leg syndrome.
- Dizziness or weakness.
There are a number of treatments for anemia, including iron supplements and changes to diet, but you need to consult with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Poor blood circulation
Whether it’s a decreased circulation or something that’s blocking your circulation, poor blood flow is another potential cause of your chilly disposition. “People with a decreased circulation to their extremities are definitely going to feel cold, especially in their hands and feet,” says Dr. Morgan. While there are a number of reasons your circulation may be low, there are a few you should be looking for.
One is an acute blockage, like blood clots. “If there’s an acute blockage in the arteries of your leg or your thigh, your legs can feel cold and that’s worrisome,” Dr. Morgan notes. “That’s an emergency that warrants immediate attention.”
Another cause can be plaque buildup in your arteries, also known as peripheral artery disease. That buildup can get to the point of restricting blood flow and the delivery of oxygen to your body resulting in feeling cold.
One more potential cause is Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition in which blood vessels, particularly in your fingers and toes, constrict, which results in low blood flow. The condition is caused by emotional stress or exposure to cold.
Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid produces a lower amount of hormones than your body is used to for regulating your metabolism and body temperature.
“It’s part of thermoregulation, the process by which your body adjusts your temperature to stay in a normal range,” Dr. Morgan explains. “For instance, when you sleep, your body slows itself down to conserve energy and your body cools.”
Without the necessary amount of hormones, the same thing happens when you’re awake: Your metabolism slows down, causing more of your body processes to slow and resulting in that low body temperature.
Loss of body fat
Loss of body fat is another reason you may start feeling cold, says Dr. Morgan, and there are several ways this can happen.
- Aging. “As you age, you tend to lose fat cells that help keep you warm so you might feel colder,” says Dr. Morgan.
- Diet and exercise. If you’ve recently started a new diet and exercise routine, you may feel a bit chillier due to burning off body fat.
- Malnourishment. If you’re not following a proper diet, your body will burn fat to use as fuel for energy, resulting in a lower body fat count.
While body fat can help keep your body temperature normal, it should be maintained as part of a healthy diet. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider to make sure your diet is doing everything it should for your body.
When should you see your doctor?
The big question, then, is when to seek medical attention for your cold condition. After all, if it’s the dead of winter and you live in a drafty house, you’re probably going to feel cold more often than not. But, notes Dr. Morgan, there are telltale signs.
“There’s no real time frame for your cold feeling as it could be passing,” she says, “but you should pay attention to whether or not your cold feeling is out of proportion.”
If you’re keeping your house hot and guests are pointing out how warm it is and you’re still always cold — that’s a sign something’s going on. “If everyone else in your household is throwing on an extra sweater, you know it’s not just you. But if you’re the only one, then you need to speak to your doctor.”
“You should also pay attention to other symptoms,” she adds. “If you’re feeling cold in combination with other things like fatigue, tingling feelings in your extremity or weakness, those are red flags that there’s more going on than a low thermostat.”
If your feelings of cold are debilitating or acute, those are also reasons to speak with your doctor. “Maybe you’re so cold your teeth are chattering or you’re not usually cold but then you notice a sudden change. Those are more reasons to take care of your health and talk to your doctor,” advises Dr. Morgan.