Feeling cold is the body’s way of signalling it needs you to get moving or grab a sweater. If you notice that you’re feeling cold seemingly without reason—all over, in your hands and feet, or in some other part of your body—it may indicate an underlying health problem. However, women tend to be more sensitive to cold due to natural physiological processes.
Thermoregulation is extremely important. If the body’s internal temperature falls below or rises above the normal range, it has to work much harder to regulate other systems in the body. If you often feel warmer or colder than is comfortable, it’s worth checking your health.
A healthy human body’s core temperature is 97.5–98.9°F (36.4–37.2°C). It naturally fluctuates throughout the day in response to your circadian rhythm, the internal clock, which regulates your sleeping and feeding patterns. The body cools by 1–2 degrees while we sleep and rises again a few hours before we wake to prepare for daily activities.
Body temperature also rises and falls in response to movement and exercise, hormones and the menstrual cycle, immune system activity, and to external environmental factors.
Don’t ignore feeling cold, even if others in the room say they feel fine or even hot. Feeling cold for a prolonged period uses up energy, makes you lethargic, and puts a strain on your cardiovascular system.
If you notice that you’re feeling cold, grab a sweater and scan your physical surroundings to locate the source of this sensation. Even if you tend to be chilly, a window may be open, or the thermostat may be malfunctioning. If not, something may be going on internally.
Most women have a slightly higher core temperature than most men as women, on average, are smaller and have slower metabolisms. Women also tend to be more sensitive to cold and prefer slightly warmer temperatures than men, which can lead to disagreements at home or in the office about where to set the thermostat.
As hormone levels change throughout the menstrual cycle, body temperature and sensitivity to cold also change. A woman’s core temperature is highest around ovulation due to a spike in progesterone. This information can be tracked and used in combination with other indicators for fertility awareness and natural family planning.
For most accurate readings, record basal body temperature—the temperature of the body when fully at rest—first thing in the morning. Remember, temperature can be influenced by many factors so BBT on its own is not reliable for determining ovulation and is especially risky as a form of contraception.
Ironically, when your core temperature is high, even a small drop in the ambient temperature can feel colder because the difference between the internal and external temperatures is larger.
In other phases of the cycle, higher oestrogen levels dilate blood vessels, promoting heat dissipation, especially in the extremities—another reason women tend to have cold hands and feet.
Feeling cold can be a symptom of illness as chills and fever go together. When you get sick, your immune system tells your brain to “set the thermostat on high” so the virus or bacteria can’t multiply. Your body suddenly thinks it’s colder than it should be and begins to shiver to raise the temperature, and as your body heats up, the air around you feels cooler. This is why you feel cold when you have a fever. This is healthy immune response than will ease on its own.
Drink plenty of fluids and get some rest. A cool compress or fever-reducing medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can provide additional relief. If your fever lasts more than two or three days or rises above 38.9°C (102°F), call your doctor. Cold air won’t make you sick
Remember, cold air by itself does not make you sick. What we call “catching a cold” is actually an infection caused by a virus, not by being out in the cold too long—no matter what your grandmother says. However, viruses spread more easily in the cold, dry air of winter and being cold lowers the body’s immune response and therefore its ability to fight viruses.
At very cold temperatures the body can no longer produce its own heat and slowly starts shutting down. The main symptoms of hypothermia are shivering, confusion, and extreme tiredness. Curiously, the sensation of coldness disappears when the body is hypothermic. Those who have experienced this report feeling warm or even hot, which is very dangerous and requires urgent intervention.
Humans are warm-blooded mammals and not meant to feel cold for prolonged periods of time. If you start feeling cold more often than usual and you aren’t sure why, it’s worth looking into.
Problems with circulation, hormones, sleep, and nutrition can all lead to feeling cold.
One of the most common reasons for always feeling cold is anaemia, or insufficient red blood cells/haemoglobin to distribute oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of anaemia include cold hands and feet, weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, pale skin, and dizziness.
The cells in our bodies use oxygen to break down sugars and produce the energy they use to perform their specialized functions. When there isn’t enough oxygen to go around, various health problems quickly crop up.
Anaemia can be caused by iron or vitamin deficiency, more serious health conditions such as leukaemia, HIV, kidney disease, and others, or any illness that affects the blood or bone marrow. Iron deficiency anaemia is most common among pregnant or menstruating women and can be easily remedied with iron supplements.
The thyroid is part of the body’s endocrine, or hormone system. It is a small butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the front of the neck and produces hormones that regulate many systems in the body, including heart rate and metabolism. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid is underactive. This is more likely to occur in women and people over the age of 60.
As with anemia, symptoms include weakness, fatigue, and feeling cold, but here the range of symptoms is larger and can lead to serious consequences if left untreated.
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, high cholesterol, constipation, changes in the menstrual cycle, mood dysregulation, and memory problems.
Hypothyroidism is treated with hormone replacement therapy.
People who have lost weight often report feeling cold more often. Changes in weight affect the body’s thermoregulation and metabolism processes, so if you have recently dropped a few pounds, you may want to wear warmer clothes and keep up an active lifestyle.
Strict dieting and extreme weight loss is not healthy. Feeling cold can be a sign of malnutrition and is also a common side effect of eating disorders such as Anorexia nervosa. Highly restricted calory intake reduces insulating body fat and lowers the metabolism, causing the person to feel cold all the time. Eating disorders are deeply intertwined with mental health and can be incredibly tough to overcome. In such cases, mental health professionals often work with nutritionists to give their clients the support they need.
Cold related to weight loss is very common as we age, but weight loss without restricted food intake or other significant lifestyle changes can be a sign of illness. If you experience sudden weight loss, consult your health care provider.
Heat is distributed throughout the body as blood flows through the blood vessels. If blood flow is restricted, a feeling of cold follows. Arteriosclerosis, or a narrowing of the blood vessels due to a build-up of plaque, often causes cold hands and feet accompanied by a tingling sensation. This increases the risk of blood clots and can indicate an underlying condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or metabolic syndrome.
In the big room-temperature debate, the chillier person can always put on another layer of clothing, but suddenly feeling cold often and without a clear reason may be cause for concern.
If feeling cold is accompanied by extreme weakness, a tingling sensation, hair loss, or other symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor so you can identify the underlying cause.
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