A common symptom of fibromyalgia is cold, painful hands and feet which might not just be due to the cold weather.  For some fibromyalgia sufferers these symptoms are ongoing no matter the weather and may have an underlying cause:

Thermal Allodynia causes temperature related pain when burning, numbing or throbbing, stinging and aching pain occurs, even as a reaction mild temperature changes, either warm or cold.  This typically affects the extremities, fingers and hands, toes and feet where the pain can range from a mild tingling to feeling like your hands or feet have been repeatedly hit by a hammer and makes doing the simplest task into a real ordeal.

The exact cause is unknown but occurs due to an increased response or malfunction of the nociceptors.  These are the body’s pain receptors or sensory neurons that respond to damaging or potentially damaging stimuli – such as a temperature change in the case of thermal allodynia – sending a signal of a possible threat to the spinal cord and the brain (central nervous system).

The brain then has to decide if the threat is real and in the case of fibromyalgia’s heightened sensitivities in the central processing of the nervous system it’s most like that the threat will be perceived as real!  The brain’s response is to create a sensation of pain and directs attention to the affected part of the body to deal with it, a process called nociception.  But as fibromyalgia sufferers, we know it doesn’t end there!

Whether cold, painful hands and feet are a symptom of fibromyalgia or thermal allodynia, the pain signals continue to fire off the pain receptors in the brain causing a continuation of the potential threat and the pain cycle doesn’t get to switch off and ends up as chronic pain.

Other causes of painful cold hands and feet include:

Raynaud’s Syndrome is an auto-immune disease which can be tested and can be either a primary condition or secondary to other disorders such as fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.  In Raynaud’s Syndrome the blood vessels constrict more than they should which decreases the blood flow which not only makes your extremities cold but makes them increasingly difficult to warm up.  The symptoms cause the sufferer to experience pain, numbness and the affected area to turn blue and white at the extremities, fingers, toes, nose, lips, earlobes and nipples.  In the worst-case scenario skin ulcers and sores may develop due to continued flare ups which damage the skin tissue.

Anaemia although not necessarily a symptom of fibromyalgia according to research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, fibromyalgia can increase the risk of iron deficiency anaemia in women by as much as 88 percent.  The reasons for this remain unclear but I’ll take a guess that it’s probably down to either diet, poor iron absorption or heavy menstrual cycles. 

Iron deficiency anaemia can both mirror and / or exacerbate the symptoms of fibromyalgia  and may often go undiagnosed, or fibromyalgia may be overlooked in those with anaemia.  Symptoms of anaemia include:

  • Cold hands and feet
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration / brain fog
  • Heart palpitations / chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin
  • Anxiety

Quite a few similarities to fibromyalgia as you can see and if you’re concerned it’s advisable to get blood tests at your GP and usually symptoms improve following a course of iron supplements and changes to your diet.

Hypothyroidism or under active thyroid is also common to women diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  Thyroid hormone helps to regulate the body’s temperature and energy levels, when thyroid hormone is low you’ll likely be more sensitive to cold temperature.  Hypothyroidism is also a common cause of peripheral neuropathy which causes nerve damage to extremities, yet another cause for cold painful hands and feet.

Diabetes is probably the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy and type two is most prevalent in those who are overweight and live sedentary lifestyle and go on to develop hypertension.  Diabetics are also more at risk of developing peripheral vascular disease (PVD) where the narrowing of blood vessels result in poor circulation, legs, hand and feet pain, also causing general fatigue. Changes to diet and lifestyle can reverse type two diabetes if diagnosed early enough and help to improve circulation and reduce the pain of cold hands and feet.

Vitamin Deficiencies can lead to developing painful cold hands and feet.  Vitamins B12, B6 and B9 (folate) are necessary to make new blood cells.  The B vitamins are water soluble and vital for the healthy nerve cells. If your intake is low can result in anaemia as oxygenated blood will struggle to reach your extremities resulting in painful cold hands and feet.  To ensure an adequate intake of these B vitamins, include healthy proteins such as eggs, meat, poultry and fish, also dairy and leafy greens.  Other sources include fortified cereals, milks and breads or you could supplement with a good all-round multi-vitamin complex.

Natural Remedies there’s a good choice of essential oils that help to increase the circulation and warm up your hands and feet.  My personal favourites, tried and tested, include Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Rosemary and Lavender.  A few drops of any two, mix with a hand cream or a carrier oil and massage into hands for a few minutes and pop on a pair of comfy gloves and let the oils absorb when needed.  To warm up the feet you can add the oil mix to warm water and let your footsies soak up the heat and enjoy.

Whatever the reason for suffering with painful cold hands and feet, if you have any concerns it’s best to talk to your doctor.  Don’t suffer in silence.  If you have a remedy that works for you, I’d love you to share it, feel free to leave any comments below, thanks for reading.           

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