Monday, June 27, 2011

Ask Us Anything: Why Do I Feel Cold?

"I am frequently cold and am wondering if it could be a sign of a vascular problem. I've been sensitive to air conditioning and fans for as long as I can remember and wear sweaters whenever they are present. Is this something that I should be concerned about? Or that I can correct?"

Nurse Practitioner Lana Pasek Responds:

Nurse Practitioner Lana PasekThe general feeling of being cold most of the time is not a symptom of a vascular disorder. It could be a symptom of a thyroid disorder, such as hypothyroidism, which indicates an underactive thyroid.

In addition to feeling cold, hypothyroidism can cause tiredness or depression, dry skin, heavy periods, constipation and memory issues, such as trouble with recall. A blood test can detect a thyroid disorder (you will need a prescription from your doctor for the blood work).

Other causes of feeling cold are a low body weight, as muscles and fat keep us warm, and consuming too few calories (the body conserves energy by producing less heat). As for vascular disorders, you may be associating cold and a vascular problem with the vascular disorder called Raynaud’s syndrome.

Raynaud’s affects the arms and hands. It is episodic ischemia (or decreased blood flow) to the fingers which causes a change in the color of the fingers. The fingers turn white then blue or purple and then red after re-warming them. This happens mostly in the cold and/or when there is emotional stress. An underlying autoimmune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, may cause these episodes.

If you have such response to cold, then an evaluation by a vascular surgeon is useful. Tests can be administered (there is no single test to diagnose Raynaud's syndrome). If you are diagnosed with the disorder, the initial therapy is cold avoidance (avoidance of cold environments). There are also medications that can be tried.

Most patients with Raynaud's do not lose function of their hands or need surgery.

— Lana M. Pasek, EdM, MSN, RN, APRN-BC

Lana is a Nurse Practitioner for Vascular and Stroke Services at Sisters of Charity Hospital and has worked in Vascular services for 9 years. She has master's degrees in Education and in Nursing. Lana is a licensed Registered Nurse and is nationally board certified as a Nurse Practitioner in Adult Health.

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