Finger cold-induced vasodilation: a review

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Jun;89(5):411-26. doi: 10.1007/s00421-003-0818-2. Epub 2003 Apr 24.


Cold-induced vasodilation (CIVD) in the finger tips generally occurs 5-10 min after the start of local cold exposure of the extremities. This phenomenon is believed to reduce the risk of local cold injuries. However, CIVD is almost absent during hypothermia, when survival of the organism takes precedence over the survival of peripheral tissue. Subjects that are often exposed to local cold (e.g. fish filleters) develop an enhanced CIVD response. Also, differences between ethnic groups are obvious, with black people having the weakest CIVD response. Many other factors affect CIVD, such as diet, alcohol consumption, altitude, age and stress. CIVD is probably caused by a sudden decrease in the release of neurotransmitters from the sympathetic nerves to the muscular coat of the arterio-venous anastomoses (AVAs) due to local cold. AVAs are specific thermoregulatory organs that regulate blood flow in the cold and heat. Their relatively large diameter enables large amounts of blood to pass and convey heat to the surrounding tissue. Unfortunately, information on the quantity of AVAs is lacking, which makes it difficult to estimate the full impact on peripheral blood flow. This review illustrates the thermospecificity of the AVAs and the close link to CIVD. CIVD is influenced by many parameters, but controlled experiments yield information on how CIVD protects the extremities against cold injuries.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / physiology
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Aging / physiology
  • Blood Flow Velocity
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Fingers / blood supply*
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia / physiopathology
  • Sex Factors
  • Skin Temperature / physiology*
  • Vasodilation / physiology*