Poor circulation occurs when there is reduced blood flow to a specific part of the body. Poor circulation in the hands may result from a health condition or certain aspects of a person’s lifestyle.

The heart beats to pump blood all around the body. Blood carries essential nutrients and energy to cells around the body, including oxygen.

The circulatory system includes the heart and blood vessels, which are responsible for carrying blood around the body. Poor circulation occurs when something disrupts this process, preventing sufficient blood supply to some body parts.

Conditions that may lead to poor circulation in the hands include atherosclerosis, anemia, and Raynaud’s disease. Smoking may also increase the likelihood of poor circulation.

In this article, we will examine the symptoms and causes of poor circulation in the hands. We will also look at potential treatments and how to improve circulation.

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Image credit: Terry Vine/Getty Images

Signs and symptoms of poor circulation in the hands include:

  • Color: The fingernails appear pale or have a blue tint.
  • Temperature: The fingers and hands feel cold to the touch.
  • Swelling: The hands may swell and be painful.
  • Numbness or tingling: The fingers might feel numb or have a tingling sensation.
  • Blood refilling: Blood vessels may take longer to fill with blood. For example, after squeezing a finger, it may take longer than 3 seconds to refill with blood.
  • Mobility: A person may have some difficulty moving the fingers.
  • Pain: Severe pain in the hands and fingers may signal poor blood flow.

Problems with the circulatory system are common. More than 64 million people in the United States, including children and adolescents, have conditions affecting the heart and circulatory system.

There are many possible causes of poor circulation in the hands, including:

Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a buildup of fatty substances in the arteries that restricts blood flow around the body.

Atherosclerosis often causes no symptoms until it becomes a medical emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke. However, symptoms of atherosclerosis may include:

Treatments for atherosclerosis can include a combination of medicine and changes to one’s lifestyle. Doctors may recommend reaching or maintaining a moderate weight or exercising regularly. They may also prescribe statins to lower cholesterol.

Anemia

Anemia is a common blood disorder that affects over 3 million people in the U.S. It occurs when there are not enough red blood cells or when they do not function well. Red blood cells normally carry oxygen around the body.

Symptoms of anemia include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • headaches
  • irregular heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • pale or yellow skin

Treatments for anemia depend on its type. Doctors may recommend iron supplementation and dietary changes. Sometimes, treating an underlying condition that causes anemia may be necessary.

Some types of anemia require blood transfusions or ongoing use of medication.

Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud’s disease is a rare condition that causes episodes of narrowed blood vessels.

Symptoms of Raynaud’s disease sometimes occur in response to cold temperatures or stress and include:

  • body parts turning pale or blue, including the fingers and toes
  • numbness or tingling
  • pain
  • burning sensation

Episodes of narrowed blood vessels can last minutes or hours and vary in frequency. Doctors may suggest some strategies to alleviate Raynaud’s disease symptoms, such as practicing stress management and avoiding the cold.

If symptoms are severe, a doctor may recommend medication or surgery.

Smoking

Smoking can increase the risk of peripheral arterial disease, a condition stemming from a narrowing of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque. This can lead to amputations.

Smoking can also increase a person’s risk of blood clots, because it makes blood stickier and more prone to clotting.

Quitting smoking will reduce these risks. A person may experience withdrawal symptoms when quitting smoking.

A person can choose from a number of strategies for quitting smoking, including the different methods, using prescription medicines from a doctor, and trying nicotine replacement patches, gums, or lozenges.

If a person has poor circulation in their hands regularly, a doctor will ask about symptoms and perform a physical examination.

They may check a person’s temperature and the appearance of the hands and fingers. A doctor may also check whether a person has any pain or numbness in the affected area.

Tests that can help doctors check how the circulatory system is functioning include:

A doctor may also use tests to check for specific underlying conditions. For example, they may order a cold stimulation test to check for Raynaud’s disease.

Looking after the heart and blood vessels may help a person improve their circulation.

Tips for general heart health include:

  • following a healthful diet
  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining or reaching a moderate weight
  • quitting smoking
  • staying informed about risk factors and signs of poor circulation
  • managing stress

Symptoms of poor circulation in the hands can occur temporarily and do not always indicate a health condition. For example, cold temperatures may cause poor circulation symptoms, including numb and pale fingers.

However, when these symptoms occur regularly, it could be a sign of an underlying condition. A person should seek guidance from a doctor if symptoms of poor circulation in the hands happen frequently without an apparent cause.

Sudden symptoms that may indicate a medical emergency and a need for immediate medical help include:

Poor circulation in the hands may have different causes, including atherosclerosis and anemia.

Poor blood flow in the hands can result in cold, numb, and painful fingers. Depending on the cause, other symptoms might also occur.

Making dietary changes and exercising regularly, for example, can improve a person’s circulation at any age.

If symptoms persist without an apparent cause, a person should contact a doctor so that they can diagnose and start treatment for any underlying conditions causing poor circulation.