Your body’s circulation system is responsible for sending blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout your body. When blood flow to a specific part of your body is reduced, you may experience the symptoms of poor circulation. Poor circulation is most common in your extremities, such as your legs and arms.
Poor circulation isn’t a condition in itself. Instead, it results from other health issues.
Read more about the causes of poor circulation and learn how to identify its effects on the body.
Causes of Poor Circulation
Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) can lead to poor circulation in your legs. PAD is a circulatory condition that causes narrowing of the blood vessels and arteries. In an associated condition called atherosclerosis, arteries stiffen due to plaque buildup in the arteries and blood vessels. Both conditions decrease blood flow to your extremities and can result in pain.
Over time, reduced blood flow in your extremities can cause numbness, tingling, nerve damage, and eventually tissue damage. Eventually, if left untreated, reduced blood flow and plaque in your carotid arteries may result in a stroke. If plaque buildup takes place in the arteries in your heart, you run the risk of having a heart attack.
PAD is most common in adults over age 50, but it can also occur in younger people. Smokers are at a higher risk than non-smokers for having PAD develop early in life.
Blood clots partially or entirely block the flow of blood. They can develop almost anywhere in your body, but a blood clot that develops in your arms or legs can lead to circulation problems.
Blood clots can develop for a variety of reasons, and they can be dangerous. If a blood clot in your leg breaks away, it can pass through other parts of your body, including your heart or lungs. When this happens, the results may be serious, even deadly. If discovered before it causes a larger problem, a blood clot can often be treated successfully.
Varicose veins are enlarged veins caused by incompetent venous valves. The veins appear gnarled and engorged, and they are most often found on the back of the legs. The damaged veins cannot move blood as efficiently as other veins, so poor circulation may become a problem. Although rare, varicose veins can also cause blood clots.
Your genes largely determine whether or not you’ll develop varicose veins. If a relative has varicose veins, your risk is higher. Women are also more likely to develop them, as are people who are overweight or obese.
You might think diabetes only affects your blood sugar, but it can cause problems in many different areas of your body. Poor circulation caused by diabetes can cause leg cramping, as well as pain and cramping in your calves, thighs, or buttocks. This cramping may be especially bad when you’re physically active. People with advanced diabetes may have a difficult time detecting the signs of poor circulation because diabetic neuropathy can cause reduced sensation in your extremities.
Diabetes can cause heart and blood vessel problems, and people with diabetes are at an increased risk for atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Carrying around extra pounds puts a burden on your body. Plus, if you’re overweight, sitting or standing for hours may lead to additional circulation problems.
Being overweight or obese also puts you at an increased risk for many of the other causes of poor circulation, including varicose veins and blood vessel problems.
People who experience chronic cold hands and feet may have a condition called Raynaud’s disease. This disease causes the small arteries in your hands and toes to narrow. Narrowed arteries are less capable of moving blood through your body, so you may begin experiencing symptoms of poor circulation. The symptoms of Raynaud’s disease are particularly prevalent when you’re in cold temperatures or experiencing an unusual level of stress.
Women are more likely to develop Raynaud’s disease. Also, people who live in colder climates are more likely to have it.
Symptoms of Poor Circulation
The most common symptoms of poor circulation include:
- throbbing or stinging pain in limbs
- muscle cramps
Each potential condition that might lead to poor circulation can also cause unique symptoms. For example, people with PAD may experience erectile dysfunction in addition to typical pain, numbness, and tingling. Raynaud’s disease can cause a prickly sensation or stinging in the affected extremities when they are warmed up.
Discuss symptoms of poor circulation with your doctor. If you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, they may be the sign of an underlying health condition. Blood clots that move into your lungs are potentially life-threatening. Other untreated conditions can lead to serious complications. Your doctor will work to determine the cause of your poor circulation and treat the underlying issue.