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Wellbeing - Why do some people feel the cold more than others?

Some people seem to have permanently cold hands and need cardigans and jumpers when others are in T-shirts.

Some people seem to have permanently cold hands and need cardigans and jumpers when others are in T-shirts. Cold weather just makes matters worse. Surely it's just down to the air temperature?

Obviously, ambient temperature affects everyone.

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Since Christmas, it's been bitterly cold - cold enough to make us all get out the padded gloves. But for people who suffer from cold hands and feet even in the middle of the summer, really cold weather is extremely restrictive; even scraping frost off a car windscreen can be painful. Women are particularly prone to feel cold. Why is that?

It appears to be to do with women's relative size in relation to men, and their lower muscle mass, as well as their fat distribution. Because women are typically smaller than men, their metabolic rate tends to be slightly slower than men's and this means that less energy is being expended and less heat generated.

Fat, as you might imagine, helps keep people warm, but where men tend to put an insulating layer on round the waist to keep their vital organs warm, women's fat is more evenly distributed. To help maintain their core temperature, women's physiology is good at directing blood flow to the organs, and away from their extremities. Since the temperature of our hands and feet dictate how cold we feel, this leaves them feeling chilly.

But muscle matters, too: where fat holds in heat, muscle is a major generator of it. Skeletal muscles (the ones that cover your skeleton) are very important in generating body heat as a by-product of activity; that's why we shiver when we're cold, shivering being spasms of the muscles. Even at rest, your muscles contribute a small amount of our body heat.

Women's temperature also changes by as much as 1C during their menstrual cycle and this too affects their perception of cold. Can feeling cold be a sign of problems?

There are some conditions that cause people to feel cold. Raynaud's syndrome is a relatively common condition affecting mainly women. The Raynauds and Scleroderma Association believes it affects around 10% of women to some degree. With Raynaud's, blood is unable to reach the extremities of the body, mainly the fingers and toes, on exposure to the cold or any slight change in temperature. This results in the person's fingers and toes, and sometimes their ears and nose, going white. They may then turn blue and, when the blood flow returns, red, causing pain, tingling or numbness. The cause is a contraction of the arteries supplying the fingers and toes when the person touches something cold or goes out unprotected into cold weather. For those mildly affected, thermal gloves, socks, hats and hand warmers, can stave it off. Severe cases can be treated with drugs.

Hypothyroidism is another condition that can make people feel cold. The thyroid gland regulates metabolism through hormones. Hypothyroidism is the result of a very under-active thyroid gland. Women are much more likely to be affected than men and the condition is more common in adults from middle age. It can be treated with drugs. How come having an alcoholic drink helps stave off the cold?

It does this by boosting blood flow to the skin, but though you may feel warmer, the heightened blood flow actually promotes heat loss, so don't be fooled. If you want to keep warm, wear several thin layers instead of one thick one, eat well and take plenty of exercise to boost your circulation.

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