What are blood vessels?
Blood vessels are channels that carry blood throughout your body. They form a closed loop, like a circuit, that begins and ends at your heart. Together, the heart vessels and blood vessels form your circulatory system. Your body contains about 60,000 miles of blood vessels.
There are three types of blood vessels:
Arteries carry blood away from your heart.
Veins carry blood back toward your heart.
Capillaries, the smallest blood vessels, connect arteries and veins.
Symptoms and Causes of Poor Circulation in the Arms and Legs
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.
Symptoms of poor circulation
The most common symptoms of poor circulation include:
- throbbing or stinging pain in your limbs
- muscle cramps
Causes of poor circulation
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
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Varicose veins:
Varicose veins are enlarged veins, usually in the legs. The veins appear gnarled, twisted, and engorged.
They can develop hen 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:
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
- standing for a long time, for example, at work
- a tumor
- a history of DVT
- genetic factors
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.
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
Treating poor circulation
Treatment for circulatory problems will depend on the cause.
Some options include:
- compression socks for painful, swollen legs
- an exercise program to increase circulation
- insulin or lifestyle changes to help manage diabetes
- laser or endoscopic vein surgery for varicose veins
- medications, such as clot-dissolving drugs or blood thinners, depending on your condition
Some natural remedies for circulatory problems include:
- getting regular exercise
- consuming a heart-healthy diet that provides fiber and other nutrients
- managing weight
- avoiding or quitting smoking
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
- folic acid
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.