Why Is One Of My Legs Cold To The Touch?
If you ever wonder, “why is one of my legs cold to the touch,” the answer is often pretty harmless. Perhaps you were sitting in a way that restricted blood flow to one leg. Maybe you’re just in a cold room.
If the problem is infrequent or a one-time thing, you likely have nothing to worry about.
Suppose one of your legs is chronically cold, or the cold is accompanied by pain, tingling, and weakness. In that case, it could be a sign of a medical condition, like peripheral artery disease or peripheral neuropathy.
What Causes Cold Feet?
The most common reason your feet or legs are cold to the touch is simply that you're in a cold environment.
In the cold, the blood vessels in our hands and feet constrict, limiting blood flow and increasing our core temperature — a part of the body’s natural response to being in the cold.
Sitting in certain positions for too long may restrict blood flow to the lower extremities, making one or both legs feel cold to the touch.
In other cases, some people naturally have colder hands and feet with no underlying condition.
But the cause of cold feet isn’t always so harmless. It could be a sign of a serious medical condition.
Peripheral Artery Disease
Chronic coldness, numbness, or tingling in one or both legs could be a sign of peripheral artery disease (PAD) — a condition affecting approximately 6.5 million Americans age 40 and older.
PAD is caused by an accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries, called atherosclerosis, that restricts blood flow to the lower extremities. As a result, affected limbs don’t receive enough blood to meet demand.
Other signs and symptoms of PAD include pain or cramping in the legs while walking (claudication), hair loss on the legs, a faint pulse in the feet, and slow-healing sores or ulcers.
Risk factors for PAD include family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and aging.
Stabbing, burning, or tingling pain accompanying coldness in the feet could be a sign of peripheral neuropathy (PN).
PN is caused by damage to the peripheral nerves — the nerves that send signals from your central nervous system to the rest of your body.
PN can be the result of diabetes (diabetic neuropathy), traumatic injury, exposure to toxins, autoimmune diseases, inherited disorders, liver disease, and kidney disease.
Other signs and symptoms of PN include muscle weakness, lack of coordination, increased sensitivity to touch, and the sensation that you’re wearing socks when you’re not.
Other Conditions That Cause Cold Feet
Other conditions that may cause one foot or leg to be cold include Raynaud’s disease, anemia, hypothyroidism, Buerger’s disease, and anxiety.
When To See A Vascular Doctor
The warning signs of PAD shouldn’t be ignored.
Chronic coldness, numbness, and tingling in the feet or legs could indicate moderate to severe PAD, especially when the symptoms are in one leg.
Having peripheral artery disease means you’re also at an increased risk for coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease — which place you at an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
Seek medical care when you experience coldness in only one leg and when your feet or legs are cold more frequently than you think they should be.
To diagnose PAD, your doctor may run a series of tests:
- Checking for a faint pulse in the feet.
- Blood tests to check for high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and diabetes.
- Ultrasound of the legs and feet.
- An ankle-brachial index to measure the difference in blood pressure in the ankle and arm.
- An angiogram uses an x-ray, CT scan, or MRI to detect blockages in the arteries.
When To See A Neurologist
The warning signs of peripheral neuropathy often first appear in the feet before moving to the hands or legs.
Many who have been diagnosed with PN report experiencing cold feet before any other signs and symptoms develop.
Seek medical care if you experience unusual tingling, burning, prickling, or weakness. You can prevent further damage to the peripheral nerves with early treatment and diagnosis.
To diagnose peripheral neuropathy, your doctor may run a series of tests, including:
- Blood tests to check for conditions that can cause PN, like diabetes, abnormal immune function, and vitamin deficiencies.
- Imaging looking for abnormalities like pinched nerves, herniated discs, and tumors.
- EMG to detect nerve damage.
- Biopsy of the skin or nerves.
The Risk Of Waiting
Having cold legs or feet is very common and generally isn’t related to a condition or disorder.
However, if you feel like your feet are cold more often than they should be, the onset was sudden, or only one leg or foot is cold to the touch, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible. They’ll be able to determine the cause and recommend proper treatment.
Untreated peripheral artery disease and peripheral neuropathy will worsen the longer you wait. Waiting puts you at an increased risk for complications — some potentially life-threatening.
Treatment Options for PAD
The treatment of peripheral artery disease revolves around improving the health of your arteries to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The best defense against PAD is to practice a healthy lifestyle by:
- Not smoking.
- Controlling blood sugar.
- Eating a diet low in saturated fat.
- Exercising regularly, according to your doctor’s recommendations.
- Managing blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
You may be prescribed medication to manage symptoms and treat underlying causes. Medications for pain, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar are common.
In some cases, intervention is an option. Angioplasty and stent placements help to open clogged arteries. A bypass surgery will create a path around the blocked artery.
Treatment Options for PN
The treatment of peripheral neuropathy revolves around relieving symptoms and managing the condition causing your PN.
The pain caused by PN is treated with pain medication:
- OTC pain medications, like NSAIDs.
- Prescription painkillers in more severe cases.
- Nerve pain medication, like gabapentin.
- Topical creams and patches.
- Antidepressants that interfere with the chemical processes in your CNS that cause pain.
Therapeutic interventions that may ease the signs and symptoms of PN include TENS, IV globulin therapy, and physical therapy.
If the cause of your PN is pressure on the nerves, surgery to fix herniated discs or tumors may help.
The best ways to prevent peripheral neuropathy are to:
- Manage the underlying conditions that put you at risk — diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, alcoholism, etc.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in whole foods.
- Exercise regularly, according to your doctor’s recommendations.
- Avoid factors that contribute to nerve damage, like smoking, repetitive motions, and staying in cramped positions.
Why is one of my legs cold to the touch?
Most often, you’re in a cold environment, or blood flow to your leg is restricted by your position.
If accompanied by pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness, consult a doctor. You may be suffering from a medical condition, like peripheral artery disease or peripheral neuropathy.