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Brrr … Is It Cold in Here, or Is It Just Me?

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In the middle of winter or inside a drafty home, feeling chilly is par for the course, but if you regularly feel cold when others feel warm, the chill could be caused by more than a low thermostat.

While body temperature normally fluctuates throughout the day and tends to differ by individual, there are some factors that make one feel colder – gender and age, for starters.

“Generally speaking, women often report feeling colder than men, which is related to physiology. With less muscle mass than men, women’s metabolic rates tend to be slower, which keeps the body cooler,” explained Physician Assistant Charlotte Gardner of Samaritan Urgent Care Walk-in Clinic - Corvallis. “Also, women’s bodies are designed to concentrate heat around the torso, so women often feel colder in their hands and feet.”

Aging can also affect how acutely we feel cold.

“As muscle mass decreases and skin and tissue thin, we may feel cold more intensely than when younger,” Gardner said. “Also, some medications like beta-blockers can have side effects related to feeling cold.”

Some additional reasons for feeling cold include:

Dehydration

Among its many benefits for health, water helps to cool us when we overheat and warm us when we’re cold, so don’t skimp on this important item. Try to drink six to eight glasses of water a day to keep your body functioning optimally.

Low Iron

Iron is a key mineral for our red blood cells, which carry oxygen, heat, and nutrients to every cell in our body. “Without enough iron, blood cells can’t do their job efficiently and this can bring on the chill,” Gardner noted. “It’s best to get iron from a good diet, but a supplement may also be needed.” Boost your iron from foods like leafy greens, especially spinach, eggs, seafood and lean meats.

Lack of Sleep

“Sleep deprivation affects so many systems in our body, including our regulatory mechanisms in the brain,” she said. “When we lack sleep, our metabolism slows and we can also experience reduced activity in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls body temperature.”

Hypothyroidism 

The thyroid gland releases a hormone that is instrumental in regulating body functions, growth and development, and metabolism. “When the gland doesn’t secrete enough of the hormone or the body can’t process it effectively, our metabolism and regulatory functions are affected and can prevent the body from generating enough heat,” Gardner explained. With hypothyroidism, a treatable condition, a person may also have thinning hair, very dry skin, and fatigue.

Poor Circulation

When arteries become narrowed from plaque build-up or other conditions, blood struggles to get through the body carrying the vital oxygen needed to regulate temperature and sustain life. Clotting disorders or diseases such as atherosclerosis, peripheral artery disease, or Raynaud’s disease can prompt certain body parts – often, the hands and feet – to feel numb, tingly, or cold. “In general, if you feel numbness or tingling, or your fingers or toes turn white or blue, these could be signs of something more serious and you should talk with your primary care provider,” Gardner said.

Diabetes 

If you have diabetes, you are more susceptible to peripheral neuropathy, which affects the nerves in the hands, feet, legs, and arms. A warning sign can be that your hands or feet may feel cold but are not cold to the touch.

“If you are concerned about your symptoms or notice that you feel colder than you used to, talk with your primary care provider. It’s good to have a blood test to rule out anything serious and to help pinpoint what may be causing your chilliness,” Gardner noted.

Four Tips to Keep Warm

While feeling cold can have many causes, cold winter days can be especially challenging for the chill-prone individual. Here are a few ways to heat up:

Exercise

It doesn’t have to be an intense workout to get the blood pumping. Try a series of arm circles, march in place, climb steps or sweep the floor.

Sip Something Warm 

While the verdict is out on whether drinking warm liquids really does heat the body, the mind is tricked into believing it. Sip a cup of hot water, tea or broth, and let the mug warm your hands too.

Hot Water Bottles Help

 They aren’t just for sick days anymore. Tuck a hot water bottle or a microwavable heat pack into your bed before sliding under the covers, sit with one on your lap while at the office or watching TV, and try warming up your vehicle seat before you head down the road.

Wear Layers

Layers are a good way to keep the heat in and the cold out. Wear loose-fitting clothes, starting with an inner layer of silk, wool, or synthetic fabric to wick away moisture, followed by a second layer of wool or synthetic fabric to act as an insulator, and if headed outside, add a third layer that repels wind and moisture.

Remember, that feeling cold more often or more intensely than usual can be a sign of something serious. To pay more attention to your level of cold, you may want to jot down the particulars of how often you feel cold, the intensity of the cold on a scale of 1 to 10, how long it lasts and if you’re aware of anything that triggered the cold. “The more information you have to talk about with your doctor, the better,” Gardner said.

To find a Samaritan urgent care clinic near you, visit samhealth.org/CareNow.