Your circulatory system sends blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout your body. When blood flow to a specific part of your body is reduced, that part will not receive essential nutrients, and you may experience the symptoms of poor circulation.

Poor circulation can refer to inadequate flow of:

  • the arteries, which supply blood going to the arms and legs
  • the veins, which carry blood back to the heart
  • the lymphatic system, which drains tissue fluids

Poor circulation can affect the whole body, but this article will focus on the flow of blood to and from the extremities, such as your legs, feet, arms, and hands.

Poor circulation isn’t a condition in itself but can result from various conditions. The most common causes include obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, and arterial issues. If you have signs and symptoms of poor circulation, it’s essential to treat the underlying causes rather than just the symptoms.

The most common symptoms of poor circulation include:

Each condition that might lead to poor circulation can also cause unique symptoms. For example, people with peripheral artery disease may have erectile dysfunction along with typical pain, numbness, and tingling.

There are several different causes of poor circulation.

Peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease is a type of peripheral vascular disease. Both take the abbreviation PAD.

PAD is a circulatory condition that causes a narrowing of the arteries. It can lead to poor circulation in your extremities, typically the legs. 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.

Reduced blood flow in your extremities can cause:

  • numbness and tingling
  • weakness
  • pain
  • swelling

In time, it can lead to nerve and tissue damage.

Without treatment, reduced blood flow and plaque in your carotid arteries may result in a stroke. Your carotid arteries are the major blood vessels that deliver blood to your brain. If plaque builds up in the arteries of your heart, you’re at risk of having a heart attack.

PAD is most common in adults over 50 but can also affect younger people. The risk of developing PAD is four times higher for people who smoke than for nonsmokers.

What are the treatment options for PAD?

Blood clots

Blood clots block the flow of blood, either partially or entirely. 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.

In deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a clot develops in veins deep in the body, often in the leg. If you have DVT and a blood clot in your leg breaks away, it can pass through other parts of your body, including your heart or lungs. It may result in a stroke, heart attack, or pulmonary embolism.

The symptoms of DVT include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • heat in the affected area

You’re more likely to have DVT if you spend a long time without moving, for example, if you have mobility problems or have extended bed rest.

When this happens, the results may be serious or even deadly. Early treatment can often prevent severe complications.

What does a blood clot feel like?

Varicose veins

Varicose veins are enlarged veins, usually in the legs. The veins appear gnarled, twisted, and engorged.

They can develop when there is extra pressure on the blood vessels in the lower extremities or because of damage to blood vessels.

If you have varicose veins, you might feel the following symptoms in your legs:

  • heaviness
  • aching
  • burning
  • itchiness

Damaged veins can’t move blood as efficiently as other veins, and poor circulation may become a problem. Sometimes, blood clots can develop. However, they don’t usually break up and cause further complications, as with DVT.

Factors that increase the risk of varicose veins include:

  • older age
  • being female
  • pregnancy
  • obesity
  • standing for a long time, for example, at work
  • constipation
  • a tumor
  • a history of DVT
  • smoking
  • genetic factors

What are some home remedies for varicose veins?

Diabetes

Persistently high blood glucose can cause damage to nerves and blood vessels, affecting circulation throughout the body, including the arms, legs, hands, and feet.

Signs to look out for include:

  • cold or numb feet or hands
  • cracked or dry skin on the feet
  • brittle nails
  • loss of body hair on the arms or legs
  • blue nailbeds or a pale blue tinge to the skin, which may be harder to see on darker skin
  • slow healing of wounds, as the blood is unable to provide nutrients to the area
  • pain or cramping

Anyone who notices these signs should see a doctor.

People with advanced diabetes may have difficulty detecting the signs of poor circulation or wounds. This is because diabetic neuropathy can cause reduced sensation in the extremities.

If anyone has a foot or leg wound with diabetes, they should seek medical advice. Without treatment, ulcers and infections can arise. These can sometimes make an amputation necessary.

Diabetes can also increase the risk of heart and blood vessel problems, including PAD. People with diabetes have a higher risk of atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

How can you lower your risk of cardiovascular disease if you have diabetes?

Obesity

If you have obesity, you could be at high risk for circulatory problems.

Obesity increases the risk of:

  • varicose veins due to pressure on the abdomen and lower body
  • fatty deposits in the blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis
  • inflammation throughout the body
  • various aspects of metabolic syndrome, including heart and kidney disease
  • diabetes, which can result in nerve and vein damage

These and other factors can all contribute to circulatory problems.

Why does obesity happen? It’s not always just about diet and exercise.

Raynaud’s disease

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 temporarily, in a spasm. Symptoms usually last around 20 minutes but can vary. Raynaud’s disease usually affects the hands and fingers.

Narrowed arteries are less capable of moving blood through your body, so you may start noticing symptoms of poor circulation. The symptoms of Raynaud’s disease commonly occur when you’re in cold temperatures or feeling unusually stressed.

Usually, the arteries narrow in response to cold, but the symptoms of Raynaud’s disease, or Raynaud’s phenomenon, are not necessarily linked to cold.

The risk of having Raynaud’s disease is higher if you:

  • have a connective tissue disorder, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (also called lupus or SLE) or Sjögren syndrome
  • do a job that involves vibrations, for example, when operating tools
  • are aged over 60 and have obstructive vascular disease
  • use certain drugs, such as cyclosporine and nonselective beta-blockers
  • have a history of hepatitis B or C or cytomegalovirus
  • have fibromyalgia

I have blue toenails: Could it be Raynaud’s disease?

Poor circulation can be a symptom of numerous conditions, and a doctor may need to do tests to identify the reason.

They will likely:

  • carry out a physical exam
  • ask about your symptoms
  • ask about any other health conditions
  • ask about any personal or family history of circulatory or cardiovascular problems

They may also recommend:

  • an antibodies blood test to detect inflammatory conditions, such as Raynaud’s disease
  • blood tests for blood count, blood sugar, kidney function, and cholesterol
  • blood testing to look for high levels of D dimer in the case of a blood clot
  • an ultrasound or CT scan
  • blood pressure tests, including testing the legs

Treatment for circulatory problems will depend on the cause.

Some options include:

Some natural remedies for circulatory problems include:

These strategies are essential for cardiovascular health, but your doctor may recommend combining them with medication. Always follow the doctor’s advice on treating circulatory problems and their underlying causes.

Some people use supplements to improve their circulation, for example:

  • vitamin E
  • multi minerals and multivitamins
  • antioxidants
  • folic acid
  • niacin
  • beta-carotene

However, there’s not enough evidence to confirm they are effective, and they may not be safe for everyone. Always check with a doctor before using a supplement, as some supplements can interfere with the actions of other drugs.

The outlook for circulatory problems will depend on the cause.

Your doctor can help you work out why symptoms are occurring and suggest suitable treatment. Treating circulatory problems early can help prevent serious complications such as a stroke or heart attack.

Treating any causes of circulatory problems in the early stages is likely to improve the outlook.

What are the signs of poor circulation?

Some signs of poor circulation in the arms and legs are numbness, tingling, and pain. There may also be a blue tinge to the nail beds.

What is a common cause of poor circulation?

Common causes include diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, and Raynaud’s syndrome. Smoking and a lack of exercise are also likely to contribute.

How can you improve circulation?

Options include seeking treatment for any underlying conditions, exercising regularly, managing weight, and following a varied diet that provides essential nutrients.

Circulatory problems can happen for many reasons, and some can lead to life threatening complications without treatment.

Smoking, obesity, diabetes, and older age are some of the risk factors for poor circulation, but genetic conditions, infections, and lifestyle habits can contribute.

If you notice tingling, pain, or other signs that could indicate circulatory problems, seek medical advice. Often, treatment can help prevent complications.

If your arteries become blocked, you may experience a heart attack or stroke. If this happens, it is essential to seek emergency medical help at once.

How can you tell if it’s a heart attack or a stroke, and what should you do?