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Kiwi women's hands are more sensitive to the cold than those of their male counterparts, new research indicates.

Women are more likely to feel the cold in their extremities because they are wrapped in layers of fat in a manner that protects their inner organs from cold at the expense of their hands and feet.

But it may also be a symptom of a disorder that is unusually prevalent among New Zealand women - especially in the upper North Island.

Research in the New Zealand Medical Journal says the cold hands and feet are a symptom of Raynaud's phenomenon, in which not enough blood gets to the fingers and toes, causing pain.

The study of 350 people found 58 per cent of the female respondents reported that their fingers were "sensitive to cold", compared to 44 per cent of the men.

University of Otago Wellington Public Health researcher Gordon Purdie said some people might think their hands changing colour (turning white and blue) and feeling colder, even in warm weather, may be normal.

But this country has high rates of the disorder, and few people seek medical advice about symptoms such as numbness.

This was of concern as people with primary signs of cold hands were found after an average follow-up of four years that a related disease could be diagnosed, with some getting scleroderma.

This is a form of arthritis, which can leave limbs stiff and limit movement - and could eventually move to organs and prove fatal.

So what would Purdie prescribe? "People should try to keep their whole bodies warm," he said.