Diabetes and Cold Feet: Causes and Treatments

Cold feet and diabetes

Diabetes and cold feet are part of a vicious circle. First, diabetes and its common health complications, peripheral neuropathy, and poor blood circulation can cause the feet to be or feel colder. Then, cold can worsen blood circulation in the feet and be responsible for diabetes-related foot problems and aggravations. 

If having cold feet may seem like a minor issue at first sight, it can be a sign of a severe underlying complication of diabetes. Here’s what to do if you have diabetes and cold feet and how to warm them up!

Table of Contents

Why do people with diabetes have cold feet?

Cold feet can be caused by various factors and health conditions that aren’t necessarily related to diabetes. However, the most common causes of chronic coldness in the feet, toes, legs, or hands are peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) and poor blood circulation. Both are frequent complications from diabetes, which explains why people with diabetes often have cold feet.

Caution: While it may seem minor, cold feet signify serious health problems. If you have diabetes and suffer from chronic coldness in the toes, feet, legs, or hands, you should talk to your doctor and get a proper medical diagnosis. 

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy

Nerve damage and disorders are common causes of cold feet. About 60% to 70% of people with diabetes develop nerve damage. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy happens when uncontrolled blood sugars have damaged the nerves of the body’s extremities (feet and hands) for long periods. Symptoms vary from one person to the other and may include numbness, loss of sensation, tingling, prickling, burning pain, cramps, sharp pain, sensitivity to touch, and cold feeling in the toes, feet, or legs.

Poor blood circulation

Poor blood circulation is another widespread cause of cold feet. Repetitive high blood glucose levels damage the small vessels and narrow the arteries. This is called peripheral artery disease, a common complication of diabetes. Peripheral artery disease reduces blood flow to the legs, feet, and occasionally the hands. Symptoms are numerous, including painful cramps, leg numbness or weakness, cold in the legs and feet, sores, and others.

Other causes of cold feet

There can be a variety of other causes of cold feet that are not necessarily directly linked to diabetes. Cold feet can be a side effect of certain medications and a symptom of hypothyroidism, restless leg syndrome, tarsal tunnel syndrome, Raynaud’s disease, Buerger’s disease, anemia, or other health issues. Stress and anxiety, as well as tiredness and, of course, cold temperatures, can cause your feet to feel colder temporarily.

Are cold feet a sign of diabetes?

Cold feet can be a sign of diabetes. To be more accurate, cold feet signify diabetes complications such as peripheral neuropathy or poor blood circulation. As explained above, when at an advanced stage, uncontrolled diabetes damages the nerves and the arteries and can lead to a cold sensation in the body’s extremities (toes, feet, legs, or hands) caused by either or both reduced circulation and nerve disorder. 

Cold feet diagnosis

Thousands of people complain about having cold feet; in most cases, it’s no big concern. But cold feet can also be the sign of severe underlying medical conditions, sometimes even life-threatening ones, such as diabetes, peripheral artery disease, diabetic neuropathy, hypothyroidism, anemia, or others. If you suffer from chronic coldness in the toes, feet, legs, or hands, you must see your doctor and seek a medical diagnosis. 

If you have diabetes, your medical insurance probably covers a yearly diabetic foot exam. It’s an excellent opportunity to ask about your cold feet syndrome and seek advice. 

How to Treat Diabetes Cold Feet?

Having cold feet is annoying, and no one likes the feeling of it. But if you have diabetes, out can also complicate your general foot health. Cold decreases blood circulation and tends to dry the skin, which can crack and get infected. That’s why keeping your feet warm isn’t only necessary for comfort but also plays a vital role in diabetic foot care. Whether caused by diabetes or not, there are a few things you can do at home to protect your feet and get rid of the chronic cold sensation.

Move and massage your feet

As simple as it seems, movement is the most efficient way to warm up your feet. Move your toes, stretch, get up, walk… It helps boost blood circulation, which is often the leading cause of diabetes and cold feet. Another great way to promote blood circulation in the feet and legs is massaging them. You can do it with your own hands or use one of these electric foot massagers for neuropathy. Some of these at-home machines even have heat-therapy settings!

Moving your feet and massages help with blood circulation

Wear warm slippers

Quality footwear is essential for diabetics, especially for those suffering from symptoms of diabetic neuropathy such as cold feet. Diabetes is dangerous for the feet. It’s responsible for thousands of yearly toe, foot, or leg amputations in the USA. If you start having foot complications such as cold feet, wearing diabetic socks and slippers home can help prevent further harm. Some thermal diabetic socks are great for keeping your feet warm and protected simultaneously!

Avoiding cold feet by wearing warm slippers with diabetes

Warm socks for Diabetics’ Cold Feet 

Warm diabetic socks are rare gems. They must keep your feet warm but not too much, so your feet don’t sweat and stay dry. Diabetic thermal socks must be crafted in premium wool or synthetic fabrics that offer warmth, excellent breathability, and moisture-wicking properties. Besides, like any diabetic socks, they must have protective and comfort features that suit diabetic feet: a loose, non-binding top, a seamless protective interior, and maybe some extra cushioning and padding. 

We’ve selected and reviewed the five best diabetic thermal socks here.

Can people with diabetes wear socks to bed?

If you have cold feet at night, wear your socks to bed. Ensure your socks are loose enough and do not constrict your feet, so your blood circulation isn’t blocked while asleep. I prefer wearing diabetic socks instead of regular socks. Their loose fit and stretchable top are designed to help boost blood flow.

Can people with diabetes use heated socks or electric blankets?

All foot professionals agree: people with diabetes should not wear heated socks. Heated socks usually have a battery-powered low-energy heater mesh, providing ambient warmth to the feet. This kind of electrical socks can burn your skin. For the same reason, it is not recommended for people with diabetes and neuropathy to use electric blankets or heating pads to warm up their cold feet.

What about heated bottles?

Sorry but again, no. And even less if you have diabetic neuropathy. A heated bottle could boil and burn your skin without you feeling it! If your feet are cold at night, it’s better to wear warm thick diabetic socks or to add a blanket on top of them.

Use warm foot baths with caution.

If used wisely and reasonably, warm foot soaks are no danger for people living with diabetes or neuropathy. But there are some precautions to take. Diabetic neuropathy can cause numbness and the inability to feel temperature properly. The damaged nerves in your feet are not reliable enough for judging water temperature. You could burn your skin. Always check the bath temperature with a thermometer before soaking your feet.

Related article: The best foot soaks for neuropathy and diabetic foot pain relief.