WHEN TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR
* You usually feel colder or warmer than people around you.
* You feel hot for more than five days.
* You often feel tired, weak and irritable.
* You also have insomnia, brittle nails or a tremor in the fingers.
* Your weight fluctuates rapidly without changes in your diet.
* If you're a woman, you have abnormally heavy or light periods.
What Your Symptom Is Telling You
Some people are just naturally more sensitive to warmth or cold than other people. If it's not a new problem, there's probably nothing wrong," says Peter Sigmann, M.D., an associate professor of internal medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. "On the other hand, if it is a new problem, it could be a sign of anemia or a thyroid disorder."
Temperature sensitivity also could be a warning signal of a cold, any infection, menopause or a migraine.
Feeling cold is also a symptom of depression and its sad cousin, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which afflicts people who are extremely sensitive to the reduced sunlight of winter. People who have SAD often have scrambled body temperature rhythms. "For most of us, our minimum body temperature occurs at about 3:00 a.m. But people with SAD have an altered rhythm. Their minimum temperature is usually pushed forward to around 6:00 a.m. So when they wake up, they feel very cold. Physiologically, it feels like the middle of the night to them," says David Avery, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.
Fortunately, temperature sensitivity is usually a minor problem that is easily relieved. Here are some things you can try.
Check your temperature. Heat or cold sensitivity may be a sign of a fever. So the first thing you should do is take your temperature, Dr. Sigmann says. Take it at bedtime, when there is less chance of temperature fluctuation, he suggests. If you do have a fever, get some rest and drink plenty of liquids. (See Fever on page 182 for more tips.)
Scope out your drugs. Certain medications, like beta blockers used to treat high blood pressure, heart disease, migraines and thyroid diseases, can make your hands and feet more sensitive to cold. Ask your doctor about the side effects of the drugs you're taking and if an alternative medication would be better for you.
Brighten up your day. If you feel cold and depressed in the morning, Dr. Avery suggests you try resetting your biological clock by taking a 15- to 20-minute walk after sunrise soon after awakening, three times a week. "Morning is the best time to receive light exposure because that's when the biological clock is most easily reset," he says. "Once you reset it, you might wake up more refreshed and less temperature sensitive."
Iron it out. "Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, especially among women who have heavy periods and have poor diets. If you get anemic, you may frequently feel cold," Dr. Sigmann says. To prevent anemia, eat plenty of iron-loaded foods like lean meat and turkey, tuna, broccoli and potatoes. If you are iron deficient in spite of a good diet, your doctor may want to check for intestinal problems.
Cool the fire. If you are a woman nearing the age of menopause and begin having hot flashes, ask your doctor to check your estrogen levels. If your estrogen is low, he may recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT). (For the lowdown on HRT and other ways to deal with hot flashes, see page 264.)
Get help for your headache. "Some people complain they get cold hands or feet when they have a migraine," says John C. Rogers, M.D., M.P.H., vice chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Foods such as red wine, coffee, cheese, nuts,
See your doctor. If your sensitivity to heat or cold is accompanied by any symptoms listed at the beginning of this chapter, see your doctor. You might have a serious thyroid disorder that requires medical attention. To treat your thyroid, your doctor may prescribe medication, radioactive iodine or surgery.