What to know about poor circulation
Common symptoms include:
- numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- cold hands and feet
- swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs
- memory loss and difficulty concentrating
- digestive issues
- joint and muscle cramping
- skin color changes
- ulcers in the legs or feet
- varicose veins
The best treatment for poor circulation depends on the cause, and problems in the arteries or veins are often responsible.
Symptoms of poor circulation
Tingling in the extremities and joint pain are symptoms of poor circulation.
The symptoms of poor circulation may not be apparent.
However, whether symptoms are obvious or not, poor circulation can be dangerous.
The following are common symptoms of poor circulation.
A person should report any of these to a doctor.
1. 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 is restricting the flow of blood, and blood cannot reach the extremities in sufficient quantities, a person may also have a sensation of pins and needles.
2. Cold hands and feet
Reduced blood flow causes the hands and feet to feel much colder than the rest of the body.
When blood cannot flow at healthy rates, this can lead to temperature fluctuations in the skin and nerve endings of the hands and feet.
3. Swelling in the lower extremities
Poor circulation can cause fluid to accumulate in certain areas of the body. This is called edema, and it often occurs in the legs, ankles, and feet.
Edema may also be a sign of heart failure. It can occur when the heart is unable to circulate an adequate supply of blood throughout the body.
Edema in the lower extremities can also develop when blood collects in those areas. Pressure builds, forcing fluid from the blood vessels into surrounding tissues.
Symptoms of edema include:
- heaviness and swelling
- tight, warm skin
- stiff joints
- pain in affected areas
Some people notice that they have edema because clothing or jewelry starts to feel tight.
If a person with edema presses on the affected area, they may leave an indentation in the swollen skin.
Also, when fluid that contains proteins collects in the abdomen, this is known as ascites. Circulation problems and liver cirrhosis can be responsible.
4. Cognitive dysfunction
Poor blood circulation can affect the functioning of the brain, leading to memory loss and difficulty concentrating.
These and other cognitive problems can result from:
- a reduction in the flow of blood to the brain
- a reduction in the amount of blood pumped throughout the body
- certain changes in blood pressure
5. Digestive problems
Digestion relies upon blood flow, and poor circulation may be linked to fatty matter that can collect in the lining of blood vessels in the abdomen.
Digestive problems related to reduced blood flow include:
Poor blood flow affects energy levels and can cause fatigue.
Also, the heart must pump harder when circulation is poor, which can lead to further fatigue.
7. 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.
Poor circulation in the legs and arms can also cause these areas to ache, including the calf muscles. This type of pain in the legs is often worse when sitting or standing for long periods.
Also, when the blood does not circulate correctly, oxygen and nutrients cannot reach tissues effectively, which can result in stiffness and cramping.
8. Skin color changes
When an insufficient amount of arterial blood reaches the body's tissues, the skin may appear pale or blue. If blood is leaking from capillaries, these areas may appear purple.
The following areas may be discolored:
9. Leg ulcers
Poor circulation affects 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, which causes swelling beneath the skin.
10. Varicose veins
Poor circulation causes existing varicose veins to become visible.
Varicose veins make it harder for blood to return to the heart. They can also lead to symptoms, such as:
- heaviness in the legs
- aches in the legs
- veins that appear to be knotted
Varicose veins are common among people who regularly stand for long periods.
What are the causes?
Various conditions can cause poor circulation, including:
Plaque building up in the blood vessels can cause poor circulation.
Atherosclerosis is among the most common causes 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, the heart, the legs, and the arms.
When atherosclerosis develops in the upper and lower limbs, this is called peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Diabetes can cause circulation problems and related conditions, such as PAD.
Over time, high levels of blood glucose 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 healthy blood flow.
Diabetes can cause nerve damage, and high levels of glucose may lead to a condition called diabetic neuropathy. One type of this condition can also affect a person's blood pressure and heart rate.
A clot in a blood vessel can restrict blood flowing to or from organs or tissues. In some cases, a clot completely blocks the flow of blood.
A blood clot can be painful, and 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.
Extra weight places a burden on the body, especially if a person does a lot of sitting or standing.
Added weight also increases the risk of blood pressure problems and varicose veins.
Raynaud's disease or phenomenon
This condition causes blood vessels to narrow, and it affects 5 percent of the population in the United States.
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 increases the risk of developing conditions that cause poor circulation. It also interferes with the flow of blood, damages the walls of blood vessels, and causes plaque to build up in veins.
These effects increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, strokes, and heart attacks.
Diagnosis and treatment
A doctor will consider a person's medical history when diagnosing poor circulation.
Poor circulation occurs with a range of conditions. Before making a diagnosis, a doctor will consider a person's:
- risk factors
- any related conditions
- family medical history
- the results of a physical examination
The doctor will then order tests, which may include:
- blood sugar testing for diabetes
- blood tests to detect inflammatory conditions
- ultrasound or CT imaging to examine the blood vessels and check for clots
- an ankle-brachial index to check for PAD
Treatment for poor circulation will depend on the underlying cause. The following lifestyle changes can also help:
- quitting smoking
- losing weight
- eating a healthful diet
Wearing compression stockings can help to manage pain and swelling in legs. Compression stockings are available for purchase online.
Some people also benefit from attending exercise programs designed to improve circulation.
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. Some people require amputation.
It is essential to report symptoms of poor circulation to a doctor, to receive appropriate treatment, and to maintain a healthful lifestyle.
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