Symptoms and Causes of Poor Circulation

A person’s circulatory system consists of the heart, blood vessels, and blood. This system is vital to the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the body. Sometimes, there are areas in the body that will have inadequate circulation. Poor blood circulation often affects the arms and legs. As a result, the symptoms of poor blood flow can lead to a decline in every day life and in some cases serious health complications.

While poor circulation is not a disease, it does stem from various health-related complications. A number of problems can cause poor circulation. The more prevalent reasons include heart problems, diabetes, being overweight, diabetes, and other circulatory system issues. For that reason, it is wise to target the root causes instead of the symptoms.

How do I know if I have poor circulation?

Poor Circulation Symptoms
Problems from poor blood flow may not be obvious. In fact, the symptoms are subtle. Regardless over time, these issues may become serious. It is always a good idea to let your doctor know any reoccurring discomfort.

Arms and Legs Numbness
Numbness has a tendency to occur in the arms and legs. Whenever blood flow is blocked, your arms and legs does not receive adequate amount of oxygen from your blood. The sensation is often described as tingling, pins and needles.

Cold Feeling in the Extremities
Constricted blood flow makes the feet and hands seem colder compared to normal. When your extremities do not get enough oxygen, the temperature of the skin and nerves can drop to uncomfortable levels. Even wearing more clothes and socks and turning up the heat does not help. It is even worse during the cold winter months, especially if it’s snowing outside.

Leg Swelling
Restricted blood flow can lead to fluid build up in some parts of our body. This condition is known as peripheral edema. It occurs commonly in the feet, ankle, and leg. In more severe cases, edema can cause heart failure. This happens when the heart does not deliver enough blood to the body. Also, edema in the legs and feet can arise when blood pools in that region. Tension builds, which pressures fluid from the veins into neighboring tissue. In fact, there is a host of issues associated with edema.

These include:

  • Leg and arm inflammation and swelling
  • Skin that appears stretched or spread
  • Skin that is indented when pressed against
  • Expansion of stomach size

Often times, people with edema will feel clothes have a tighter fit. Another possible sign of edema is to press your skin and see if it bounces back. The skin of people with edema leaves an indented mark.

Impairment of Brain Function

A lack of sufficient blood flow to the brain or throughout the body can lead to cognitive dysfunction. Symptoms include trouble concentrating and a loss of memory.

Digestive Issues
It’s not surprising that everything in our body is affected by blood flow. Not having enough can interfere with digestion. In fact, poor blood flow can create another issue. Fat can accumulate in blood vessels around the stomach and cause pain, cramps, diarrhea, and constipation.

Loss of Energy

Poor circulation can make you feel lethargic. When the heart needs to work harder to supply blood to the rest of the body, more energy is expended. This is what causes more fatigue.

Muscle Stiffness and Discomfort
Poor blood flow can create discomfort in the extremities. There may be pain in your feet and hands when they go from cold to warm as circulation returns. This pain can also extend to your arms and legs. In particular, leg discomfort is exacerbated when sedentary or standing for extended periods of time. Another circulation-related problem is muscle cramps and stiffness when nutrients and oxygen cannot reach muscles.

Changes in Skin Color
Sometimes when there is not enough oxygen delivered to parts of your body, your skin may look blue, more white, or even purple in color. Skin color changes can affect any part of your body.

Leg Sores
Sores on legs can form when blood pools in the blood vessels in the legs. This creates swelling under the skin. In addition, insufficient blood flow slows down the body’s healing ability, which causes longer recovery times for ulcers.

Varicose Veins
Varicose veins happens when there is valve failure leading to large veins. People who have varicose veins often stand for extended periods of time. However, poor blood flow makes any varicose veins more noticable. Varicose veins make it more difficult for blood to circulate back to the heart. It can also cause swelling, blood clots, pain, and itchiness.

Causes of Poor Circulation

Many people with prediabetes do not even know they have this condition. Some believe diabetes only influences blood sugar levels, but it can create a whole host of health problems. Sometimes, pregnancy can cause what is called gestational diabetes. One of which is blood flow related problems such as peripheral artery disease. This can mean leg pain and cramps, notably during exercise. Wearing diabetic socks for guys and women can help you feel better. These socks improve leg circulation. They come in an assortment sizes and lengths including ankle, low cut, crew, and diabetic knee high socks.

Related: How are compression socks and diabetic socks different?

Also, diabetes can lead to heart problems. Diabetics are especially at risk for clogged arteries, heart attacks, and high blood pressure. Even worse, diabetics may find it hard to self-diagnose poor circulation due to diabetic neuropathy. Over time, high glucose levels arising from diabetes mellitus causes nerve damage, known as diabetic neuropathy. Diabetics won’t be able to feel pain with damaged nerves. Ultimately, diabetes is a disease with no cure. However, there are ways to manage diabetes.

Plaque Build Up in Blood Vessels and Arteries
Typically, poor circulation happens because of plaque build up in our circulatory system. Over time, blood vessels get smaller and constricts blood circulation. It can also cause nerve damage, tingling, pain, heart attack, and stroke. This condition targets the arms, legs, heart, and brain.

Blood Clots
Blood clots impairs the blood circulation. Sometimes, there is total blockage. Clots can form in any part of the body. Blood clots in the legs and arms will cause circulation issues. In fact, there are many causes of blood clots and they can be deadly. Blood clots from one part of your body and move to other places such as the lungs and heart. Not only that, but blood clots can cause a stroke. If diagnosed early, a blood clot is not life threatening.


Bearing more weight than normal places a large load on your body. Being sedentary or standing for a long time can cause circulation issues if you are obese. Obesity also raises the chance of other problems including varicose veins, venous disease, and high blood pressure.

Raynaud’s Phenomenon
Raynaud’s disease is a condition causes blood vessels to narrow. Smaller blood vessels makes it more difficult for your body to circulate blood. This obstruction of blood flow leads to tingling, numbness, and a chilly sensation in the feet and hands. These symptoms often worsen over time.

How do doctors diagnose poor circulation?

In general, it is not easy for doctors to pinpoint poor circulation since the symptoms come from various conditions. Doctors will evaluate your symptoms, family history, and other risk factors. Based on the findings, a doctor may order the following medical tests :

  • Blood sugar level test for diabetes
  • Ultrasound/CT Scan for blood clots
  • Blood test for inflammatory conditions
  • Blood pressure test for peripheral artery disease (PAD)

How do I treat poor circulation?
To correct poor circulation, you need to treat the underlying cause. Treatments can include:

  • Eating a better diet with low glycemic foods for diabetes such as vegetables and lean proteins
  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Losing weight
  • Wearing diabetic socks (our guide) to alleviate leg and feet pain
  • Regulating insulin to manage diabetes
  • Blood thinners for blood clots

Health issues that lead to poor circulation are more simple to treat when they are treated early. If left untreated, a person may have health complications that includes heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots. Therefore, it is important to talk to your doctor about your symptoms of poor circulation to get suitable treatment and to continue a healthy style of living.