Poor circulation reduces blood flow to various body parts. It can cause numbness, tingling, and swelling. Conditions such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and blood clots can cause poor circulation.

Treatment for poor circulation will depend on the underlying cause but may include lifestyle changes, including more exercise, a healthful diet, and maintaining a moderate weight.

This article explains the symptoms, causes, and treatments for poor circulation.

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Poor circulation occurs when the circulatory system cannot pump blood effectively to all parts of the body. This causes a drop in blood, oxygen, and nutrient delivery to affected areas.

Poor circulation typically affects a person’s furthest extremities, such as the hands and feet.

The symptoms of poor circulation may not always be apparent. However, poor circulation can be dangerous whether symptoms are obvious or not. Below are some potential symptoms of poor circulation.

Numbness and tingling in extremities

One of the most common symptoms of poor circulation is numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.

When something restricts blood flow, and it cannot reach the extremities in sufficient quantities, a person may also have a sensation of pins and needles.

Cold hands and feet

Low blood flow causes the hands and feet to feel much colder than the rest of the body. Raynaud’s phenomenon is one of several conditions that can cause severe coldness in the extremities.

When blood cannot flow at typical rates, a person may experience temperature fluctuations in the skin and nerve endings of the hands and feet.

Learn potential causes and remedies of cold feet here.

Cognitive dysfunction

Poor blood circulation can affect the brain’s functioning, leading to memory loss and difficulty concentrating. For example, disruption to blood and oxygen flow to the brain can cause vascular dementia.

Digestive problems

Digestion relies upon blood flow, and poor circulation can cause certain gastrointestinal issues.

Digestive problems that could indicate poor blood flow include:


Poor blood flow affects muscular strength and may increase fatigue.

Joint pain and muscle cramping

Poor circulation can cause pain in the legs, feet, arms, and hands. Cold hands and feet may ache or throb, especially as they start to warm and blood flow returns.

Also, when the blood does not circulate correctly, oxygen and nutrients cannot reach tissues effectively, resulting in stiffness and cramping.

Skin color changes

When insufficient arterial blood reaches the body’s tissues, the skin may appear paler than usual. If blood is leaking from capillaries, these areas may appear purple.

The following areas may be discolored:

Learn more about skin discoloration on the legs here.

Leg ulcers

Poor circulation can affect the body’s ability to heal, which can lead to ulcers in the legs and feet.

Ulcers can also develop when blood pools in the veins of the legs, causing swelling beneath the skin.

Various conditions can cause poor circulation, including:


Atherosclerosis is a common cause of poor blood circulation. It occurs when plaque builds up in blood vessels, especially in the arteries.

This buildup eventually narrows and hardens the arteries, eventually restricting blood flow. Atherosclerosis commonly affects the arteries of the:

  • brain
  • heart
  • legs
  • arms
  • pelvis

Peripheral artery disease

When atherosclerosis develops in the upper and lower limbs, this is called peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Some people with PAD may have no symptoms. However, when they occur, symptoms of PAD may include:

  • leg pain
  • pain when walking
  • limping

Treatment and reducing risk factors for PAD is vital to reduce the risk of long-term complications.

Diabetes mellitus

Diabetes can cause circulation problems and related conditions, such as PAD.

Over time, high blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels and cause plaque to build up. It is essential for people with diabetes to correctly manage their blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels to maintain blood flow.

Diabetes can also cause nerve damage, and high levels of glucose may lead to a condition called diabetic neuropathy. One type of this condition, autonomic neuropathy, can also affect a person’s blood pressure and heart rate.

Blood clots

A clot in a blood vessel can restrict blood flowing to or from organs or tissues. In some cases, a clot completely blocks blood flow.

A blood clot can be painful. If a clot travels, it can have severe consequences, such as:

Blood clots can develop anywhere in the body and lead to circulation problems. However, if a doctor detects them early, treatment can be successful.

Being overweight

Extra weight can reduce blood flow to the brain and far extremities.

Overweight and obesity are also risk factors for other conditions that can contribute to poor circulation, including:

Raynaud’s phenomenon

This condition causes blood vessels to narrow. Narrowed vessels and restricted blood flow can cause numbness, tingling, and a cold feeling in the hands and feet, and the effects may become more severe with time.

Smoking tobacco products

Smoking tobacco products can narrow blood vessels, increase plaque buildup, and damage tissue throughout the circulatory system. Smoking also increases the risk of developing conditions that cause poor circulation.

These effects increase the risk of:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • heart attacks

Sedentary lifestyles

According to the British Heart Foundation, physical inactivity can contribute to circulatory problems by causing fat buildups in the arteries.

Physical inactivity can increase the risk of circulatory health conditions, including:

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • atherosclerosis

Poor circulation occurs with a range of health conditions. Before making a diagnosis, a doctor will consider a person’s:

  • symptoms
  • risk factors
  • related conditions
  • family medical history
  • the results of a physical examination

The doctor will then order tests, which may include:

A diagnosis will allow a doctor to determine the best cause of treatment.

Treatment for poor circulation will depend on the underlying cause. In some cases, doctors may prescribe medications to prevent complications and improve symptoms. This may include the following:

Lifestyle changes

Doctors may also suggest lifestyle changes to improve circulation and reduce the risk of health conditions that can cause poor circulation. These changes may include:

Regular exercise can improve overall heart health and increase muscular strength. People can work with a healthcare professional to create an exercise regime suitable for their activity ability.

Conditions that cause poor circulation are easier to treat when a doctor detects them early.

If a person does not receive treatment, they may develop life threatening complications, including blood clots and infected skin ulcers.

It is essential to report symptoms of poor circulation to a doctor, to receive appropriate treatment, and to maintain a healthful lifestyle.