Poor circulation reduces blood flow to various body parts. It can cause numbness, tingling, and swelling. Several conditions can lead to poor circulation and treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause.

In this article, we cover the symptoms, causes, and treatments for poor circulation.

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Poor circulation occurs when the circulatory system can no longer 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, whether symptoms are obvious or not, poor circulation can be dangerous. Below are common 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.

Learn more about numbness and tingling here.

Cold hands and feet

Low blood flow causes the hands and feet to feel much colder than the rest of the body. Several conditions, such as Raynaud’s phenomenon, can cause severe coldness in the extremities.

When blood cannot flow at healthy rates, this can lead to temperature fluctuations in the skin and nerve endings of the hands and feet.

Learn more about the causes and remedies of cold feet here.

Swelling in the lower extremities

Poor circulation can cause fluid to accumulate in certain areas of the body. This is 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 cannot circulate an adequate blood supply 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

Learn more about edema 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.

Learn more about vascular dementia here.

Digestive problems

Digestion relies upon blood flow, and poor circulation can cause a range of gastrointestinal issues.

Digestive problems related to reduced blood flow include:

Learn more about other common digestive disorders here.


Poor blood flow affects muscular strength and can increase fatigue.

A drop in blood flow in the brain may also increase mental fatigue following strenuous tasks.

Learn more about fatigue here.

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.

Learn more about cramps here.

Skin color changes

When an insufficient amount of 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:

  • nose
  • lips
  • ears
  • nipples
  • hands
  • feet

Learn more about skin discoloration on the legs here.

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.

Learn more about leg ulcers here.

Varicose veins

Poor circulation causes existing varicose veins to become visible. Varicose veins make it harder for blood to return to the heart and potentially pool in the lower extremities. They can also lead to symptoms such as:

  • heaviness in the legs
  • aches in the legs
  • itchiness
  • swelling
  • veins that appear to knotted

Varicose veins are common among people who regularly stand for long periods.

Learn more about varicose veins here.

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, the heart, the legs, and the arms.

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

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 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.

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 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.

Being overweight

Extra weight places a burden on the body and can reduce blood flow to the brain and far extremities.

Overweight and obesity are also risk factors for diabetes, atherosclerosis, and heart disease, which can also cause poor circulation.

Raynaud’s disease or 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 cardiovascular disease, strokes, and heart attacks.

Treatment for poor circulation will depend on the underlying cause. The following lifestyle changes can also help:

Regular exercise not only improves circulation and overall heart health, but it can also increase muscular strength, which is a side effect of poor circulation.

People can work with a medical professional to create an exercise regime suitable for their activity ability.

Discover 8 ways to improve circulation here.

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

  • symptoms
  • 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

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.