- Increased cold sensitivity is a normal part of aging, but it can also be a sign of a health problem.
- Older adults have a thinner layer of fat under the skin, making them more susceptible to cold.
- Conditions like diabetes, peripheral artery disease and kidney disease can restrict blood flow and lower body temperature.
[4 MIN READ]
As the years go by, you’ve probably noticed some changes to how you look and feel. Maybe there’s an extra wrinkle here and there, a stray gray hair or a different pace in your step. It’s all part of the aging process.
But one day in late fall, maybe you realized you need a few extra layers after getting a deep chill on a walk. Or maybe you’ve found yourself adjusting the thermostat higher once January rolls around.
Is your increased need to stay warm more than just the winter season?
Aging can bring many changes to our bodies, including an increased sensitivity to cold. In most cases, this change is normal. However, some health conditions can make you feel colder. It’s essential to address these problems before they turn into serious complications.
Here are some ways to determine if it’s a natural chill or a potential health issue to discuss with your doctor.
Why do you feel colder as you get older?
As you age, there are a few different body changes that can affect your cold tolerance, including:
- Your metabolism slows. It’s normal for your metabolic rate to decrease, and along with it, your body’s response to the cold. For example, certain body receptors may not work as quickly to tell your blood vessels to constrict and maintain your body temperature.
- The fat layers under the skin start to thin. This fat layer conserves body heat, so you’re more likely to feel cold when it starts to thin.
- Your blood vessels lose elasticity. When your blood vessels aren’t as flexible, your circulation decreases. When your blood doesn’t circulate normally, it’s harder for your body to retain heat. This can cause your hands and feet to feel cold.
Conditions that increase cold sensitivity
Your increased cold sensitivity may be a normal part of aging, but a health condition may also be the reason why you need an extra sweater around the house.
If you notice you’re feeling cold more often, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. He or she can help make sure you’re addressing any health problems before they get serious.
Blood circulation plays a significant role in how your body retains heat. If your blood can’t flow normally through your body, your arms, legs, hands and feet may start to feel cold. This is because your body will prioritize blood flow to critical areas like your brain and heart.
Cardiovascular diseases — including heart failure, coronary artery disease and peripheral artery disease (PAD) — can affect how blood flows in your arteries and blood vessels. For example, plaque buildup can restrict and even block blood flow.
Anemia is a condition where you don’t have enough red blood cells, which carry oxygen to tissues throughout your body. When you’re anemic, your body will direct the oxygen-full red blood cells to important organs, such as your brain, kidney or heart. This can leave your skin, hands and feet feeling cold because there’s less blood flow and oxygen coming to those parts of your body.
Kidneys filter waste out of your blood, and kidney disease can disrupt this process. When waste builds up in the body, your core body temperature can decrease. Kidney disease can also cause anemia, which can leave you feeling cold.
Diabetes can cause different health issues that affect your cold sensitivity, including kidney disease and anemia. However, high blood sugar can also damage your nerves, especially in your arms and feet (also called diabetic neuropathy). When the nerves are damaged, your arms and feet may feel cold, numb or tingly.
Thyroid conditions like hypothyroidism affect how your body regulates hormones. Some hormones help control your body’s temperature. When you have a thyroid issue, you may not have enough of these temperature-controlling hormones, which can leave you feeling cold.
Medications can increase cold sensitivity, too
You may feel cold as a side effect of a new medication. Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, which you may take to lower your blood pressure, often cause cold hands and feet. This is because the medicines can reduce blood circulation to your extremities.
Don’t ignore the cold
If you’re often reaching for another blanket or sweater, it may be time to talk to your doctor, especially if:
- Your symptoms are new
- Your symptoms get worse
- You feel cold when others are comfortable
- Feeling cold affects your daily activities
Older adults can lose body heat faster, so it’s crucial to get to the bottom of what’s causing the chill. When ignored, a rapidly dropping body temperature could lead to hypothermia.
Find a doctor
The geriatric specialists at Providence can help determine whether your new cold sensitivity is a normal part of aging or a sign of a more serious health problem. You can find a Providence expert through our provider directory or search for one in your area:
Have you noticed a need for extra layers as you get older? Share your experiences with us @providence. #aging