The human body is equipped with an efficient mechanism of temperature sensation. This mechanism enables us to detect temperatures that are potentially harmful (too high or too low). Because of what you are sensing in your body, you may be asking yourself (and others), “why am I cold all time?”
The cold feeling in your body may be a recent, short term occurrence (as in minutes to hours, or even days). Or it may have been there for a long time of weeks to months, or even years. The causes will tend to be different under these different time frames, though there are also overlaps.
This article will explore the causes of feeling cold in detail. It will help you to differentiate between the causes, based on the circumstances surrounding the cold feeling, and associated symptoms and signs. Advice will be given on what to do for each situation.
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WHY AM I COLD?
Okay, so you may just be feeling cold today or over the past few hours or minutes, not long-term. You have checked – the environmental temperature is not cold or cold enough for you to be feeling this way. You are dressed up sufficiently, and no one that you have checked with is also feeling cold.
These are the most likely reasons to feel cold rather suddenly:
- A high body temperature / fever
- Ingestion of a cold liquid or food
- Medication such as painkillers / antipyretics
- Sudden drop in your blood circulation
- Low blood glucose level
The above causes will be discussed in detail in the paragraphs after the next one.
WHY AM I ALWAYS COLD?
Oh, in this case you have been feeling cold for quite a while now Dear Reader. No matter how much you have tried to dress up, warm yourself and avoid cold environments, you still feel cold. And there have been warm days, you still feel cold, when no one else around you has been feeling that way!
These are the likely causes in this scenario:
- Decreased metabolism: hypothyroidism
- Decreased metabolism: adrenals and other glands
- Decreased metabolism: other causes
- Bad blood circulation
- Decreased insulation (low body weight, skin disorders such as dryness)
- Chronic fever
In the next paragraphs follows a full explanation about all the above causes of feeling cold.
HIGH BODY TEMPERATURE (FEVER)
It will be learnt from the totality of this article, that most cases of feeling cold result from a relatively low body temperature. This is caused by weakened heat generation due to various causes. But there is an exception – fever.
Our bodies have temperature set at a certain range. There is a normal range for all human beings. But there are variations between individual people.
The normal human body temperature is way above normal “room temperature”. But the body is used to this and exists in harmony with the surroundings.
When your body’s temperature rises significantly above the normal set point, and certainly when it exceeds what is the human normal, trouble starts. You begin to feel that the surrounding air is at a lower temperature than your body. You feel cold.
But what is really happening in this situation, is that you are losing heat energy to the environment. Your body sets in motion, mechanisms to get rid of the heat caused by the fever.
You ask, “why am I cold and sweating”? The sweating is EXACTLY one of the mechanisms the body uses to eliminate heat energy. Also accompanying is usually fast or heavy breathing.
Special mention needs to be made of chronic fever. We are used to situations where we may develop one of the common infections like influenza. In such cases, the onset of fever is quick and relatively short-lived.
But there exists what are called chronic or sub-acute infections. These infections can go on for weeks to months. Examples include a deep-seated infection in the bones (chronic osteomyelitis), infection of the inside of the heart (endocarditis), and tuberculosis (TB).
In chronic infections, the fever, usually a low grade one, will rumble on for a long time. It could be the only presenting symptom, manifesting only as a chronic feeling of cold, before other symptoms kick in, or until a Health professional suspects underlying infection.
The advice in relation to fever causing a feeling of cold, is to keep a thermometer such as the one provided above. It is very accurate and user friendly – will alert you through a certain note, when your body temperature is abnormal (high). Infectious diseases can be picked up early in this way, and timely action taken.
Also deserving mention under this section, is the common effect of antipyretics. The body can still adjust to an increased temperature, and not cause you to feel cold.
But when given medication for fever and pain, such as paracetamol and ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES, the rapid drop in temperature frequently causes sweating, a feeling of cold, and shivering. Awareness of these physiological processes, can prevent much alarm.
WHY AM I COLD AFTER I EAT?
This may be due to another common, but often unrecognised, cause of feeling cold. This is the ingestion of cold liquids or food.
Sometimes, even when temperatures are cool or frankly cold, people can still eat cold food, or take cold drinks! This is influenced by people’s practiced routines (such as constantly drinking water) or dietary preferences. Sometimes we even suck on ice blocks during Winter meetings, just because the ice is there!
It is important to be alert as to the ambient temperatures, and ingest food and drinks of the appropriate temperature. This is even more advisable for people who have ailments that get worse with abnormal temperatures, such as arthritis that is worsened by cold exposure.
BAD BLOOD CIRCULATION
The cause of a poor blood circulation are numerous:
- anaemia, which is a weakness of the red component of blood, the red blood cells
- low circulating blood volume. This can be of sudden onset as in blood loss
- decreased cardiac output due to a diseased heart (pump)
Whatever the cause of a bad blood circulation, the effect is a cut in the supply of nutrients such as glucose, and oxygen. Thus, metabolism and heat generation become compromised. This causes the body, and the blood stream itself, to drop in temperature.
In the presence of anaemia or low blood volume, the heart can work extra hard and maintain the output and blood pressure for some time. But there may be symptoms, such as coldness, that report the pathological state. Rapid intervention can help to prevent the heart from eventually getting tired and failing.
It is thus crucial that if one is feeling cold and there is suspected bad circulation, quick medical attention should be sought. A blood pressure machine as provided above in the links, and a haemoglobin measurement, can be very helpful.
A special category of poor circulation exists: the localised one. A typical example is decreased circulation to the extremities such as toes and fingers, as in Raynaud’s Phenomenon. This can be innate, or caused by e.g. medication.
Decreased metabolism has causes as listed above, and more. In terms of the endocrine system, the Thyroid gland is the most important. The gland is “the Conductor” of the body’s metabolism orchestra.
The thyroid gland can be diseased and under-function. The condition, called hypothyroidism, causes low circulating levels of the thyroid hormones. Thus metabolism cannot be stimulated, and not enough heat can be generated.
Please see this article on this website for more information about hypothyroidism, and advice.
The adrenal glands produce several hormones that speed up the body’s energy processes. In disease such as the immune disorder Addison’s Disease or infiltration by cancer, severe attacks of hypothermia can occur.
Metabolism may also be low simply because of consumption of low calories, or decreased physical activity. Thus, metabolism can be sped up by eating good quality high calorie diet, or warm to hot food. It can also be increased by using metabolism enhancers like spices, ginger, etc, or by increasing physical activity.
The human body has a certain proportion of fat. In terms of insulation against the cold, the most important fat is the layer deep to the skin (subcutaneous fat).
When people lose weight, the subcutaneous fat gets depleted. It may reach and go beyond a certain critical point. Beyond this point, many health problems ensue.
One of the problems caused by excessive weight loss as happens in cancer, anorexia nervosa, AIDS, etc, is inability to maintain body temperature.
In the above paragraphs, we have alluded to how painkillers / antipyretics can cause a feeling of cold. These are drugs or medications that work directly on the body’s heat mechanisms. They are licensed and used for among others, control of fever.
But there are many other medications that can cause coldness, as a side-effect. You may be taking one or some of them short term or long term for some indication, and not be aware that the medication is the cause of you feeling cold.
Some of the medications can cause coldness by causing a decreased cardiac output e.g. beta-blockers. Others may cause impaired circulation of the extremities (Raynaud’s Phenomenon) e.g. Calcium Channel Blockers which are heart and blood pressure medication.
BLOOD GLUCOSE (DIABETES AND HYPOGLYCEMIA)
Diabetes is of course, an abnormally high blood sugar level due to absolute or relative insulin deficiency. It can cause feeling of cold by different mechanisms:
- effect on the circulation
- effect on the nervous system
Hypoglycemia is an abnormally low blood sugar level. It can result from treatment with blood sugar medication. But it can also occur in non-diabetic people.
A low blood sugar level produces, among its symptoms, a feeling of cold. This is because glucose is THE energy fuel of the body.
There are many medical causes of feeling cold. If you cannot find an obvious reason for feeling cold, please use this article as a reference to figure out if there could be a health issue. Then seek professional help as appropriate.
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