Poor Circulation

What is poor circulation?

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Often a result of other conditions, poor circulation consists of the limited flow of blood and oxygen to certain parts of the body. Most often, poor circulation impacts the arms and legs and, by extension, feet and hands. Poor circulation to the feet needs special attention as its symptoms and implications can pose more serious harm to the person.

What causes poor circulation?

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Because poor circulation results from an underlying cause, there are a number of conditions that can cause poor circulation in the feet. We cover the main causes below, but please note that this list is not inclusive of all possible causes.

  • Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries. When this condition sets into the legs, circulation to the feet becomes blocked. Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries, often caused by other factors such as obesity and smoking. If left untreated, atherosclerosis can cause peripheral artery disease (PAD).
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD): PAD is the continual buildup of plaque in the arteries and veins in the legs. PAD can lead to strokes, tissue damage, and severe circulation issues.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes can cause neuropathy in the feet, which can mask the symptoms of poor circulation in the feet. Diabetes also causes swelling and circulation issues in the legs.
  • Obesity: Obesity strains the body’s functions, especially its ability to circulate blood and oxygen. With the feet carrying additional weight, poor circulation is common since mobility is limited.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): DVT forms a large blood clot, typically in the leg. This clot drastically restricts circulation to the foot and can lead to a more serious condition like pulmonary embolism.
  • Venous insufficiency: A venous insufficiency causes blood to collect in the veins instead of circulating back to the heart. This can weaken circulation in the foot since there is not constant movement of blood in the veins.
  • Blood clots: Blood clots are a clear restriction to normal circulation in the feet. If left untreated, blood clots have more serious consequences like a stroke if they lodge in the wrong spot.
  • Raynaud’s disease: Raynaud’s disease can cause poor foot circulation due to narrowed arteries.
  • Varicose veins: Varicose veins aren’t as effective as normal veins at maintaining normal circulation. If varicose veins develop in the legs, poor circulation in the feet could become likely.

What are symptoms of poor circulation?

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Having cold feet can be a symptom of other conditions, and you could just need a pair of socks. However, when you start to notice these symptoms recur and worsen, you should seek medical attention for poor circulation in your feet. Any of these symptoms can point to poor circulation and other conditions, like those listed above. It is important to monitor your own feet to detect any of the following signs of poor circulation.

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Cold feet
  • Blue or purple feet
  • Scaly rash on feet
  • Heaviness of feet and legs
  • Slowed toenail growth

Are there any risk factors of groups for poor circulation?

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Many conditions can put people at risk for poor circulation in their feet. There are also lifestyle habits that can make a person more likely to develop poor circulation. Additionally, certain demographics of people predispose them to poor circulation in the feet. People who fall into any of the following groups at risk should pay close attention to their systems and take proactive actions to help prevent or lessen the effect of this condition.

  • Age: Older people are significantly more vulnerable to experiencing poor circulation. As the heart and body ages, functions like blood circulation become impaired. The feet can become swollen and numb. It is common for an old person’s baroreceptors in their nervous system to become less sensitive, preventing functional circulation. Elderly people are also prone to many of the causes of poor circulation in the feet even if their heart is healthy.
  • Lifestyle: Those who have sedentary lifestyles are more at risk for poor circulation in the foot. Many older people become sedentary over time, adding to their risk of poor circulation. People who are less active have weakened muscles and immune systems, along with decreased circulation due to lack of movement. Moving helps the heart and circulation system function well, and without that, a person is at risk of poor circulation. Additionally, those who are overweight are more likely to develop poor circulation. Excess weight puts a strain on many functions of the body. This is especially true for a person’s heart and circulation system.
  • Smoking: Smoking also predisposes a person to circulation issues. Smoking damages the lungs, which is a crucial organ for the production and movement of oxygenated blood throughout the body. As buildup from smoking occurs in the arteries, a person is at risk for poor circulation. Smoking carries risk for other diseases as well, making a person who smoked vulnerable to many medical conditions.
  • Certain Medical Conditions: As was made clear in the causes of poor circulation in the feet, many medical conditions contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing poor circulation. Poor circulation is often a symptom of these underlying conditions. It is important to understand what conditions might be contributing to issues in your feet and seek proper treatment.

How is poor circulation diagnosed?

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If you suspect you have poor circulation in your feet, a doctor will likely confirm this with a physical examination of the foot. Most of the symptoms of poor circulation are visible on the outside of the foot. The patient should also be able to describe the sensations in the foot to the doctor to help with the diagnosis. The doctor may ask about the patient’s family history, medical history, and lifestyle to help them understand any risk factors that person might face.

Since poor circulation to the feet often indicates other, sometimes more serious conditions, a doctor might conduct more tests to diagnose the cause of the poor circulation. These additional tests include the following:

  • Blood sugar test to detect diabetes
  • Antibodies blood test to detect inflammatory conditions
  • Ultrasound or CT scans to detect blood clots

Should you see a doctor for poor circulation?

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You should see a doctor when you notice symptoms of poor circulation in your feet as soon as possible. Circulation issues do have treatments, but it is important to know the scope of the circulation problem and prevent future damage or serious, life-threatening conditions.

Once a patient and their doctor establish the cause of the circulation issues and develop a treatment plan, the person will be able to manage the pain and any other symptoms. You may need to continue seeing specialists related to the underlying causes of the poor circulation in the foot.

How is poor circulation treated?

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The treatment for poor circulation in the feet can take many forms, depending on the person’s situation and other medical conditions that need treatment. Once the treatment for the underlying causes of the swelling is established, people may find the swelling to go away. However, it is likely that people may need to make lifestyle changes to help reduce the pain as well.

Examples of treatments for poor circulation in the foot include the following:

  • Compression socks: Compression socks encourage blood circulation by applying even pressure to the foot and leg. It may also be beneficial to elevate the leg as well since keeping the foot raised can prevent swelling while the compression socks promote circulation.
  • Regular exercise: People with poor circulation benefit from low-impact exercises that help incorporate light movement into their daily routine. Exercises like walking, swimming, and stationary cycling promote healthy circulation and can strengthen your heart. Those with more pain should ease their way into these exercises.
  • Medications: A doctor may prescribe medications to help not only poor circulation but also the accompanying conditions that might have led to poor circulation. It is important to establish a regiment to make sure you take the medication at the right time.
  • Diet and weight management: Healthy eating can help improve symptoms of poor circulation and can help a person lose weight safely. Make a concerted effort to eat foods that help lower high blood pressure to help with circulation. Once you start to lose weight, symptoms may start to lessen and mobility can increase.
  • Quit smoking: To quit smoking is the best thing to do for your overall health. Circulation will improve when you stop smoking and treat any side effects from smoking.

What is the outlook for people living with poor circulation?

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If you see a doctor as soon as you notice symptoms of poor circulation develop, you can more effectively manage any related conditions. The outlook when you properly treat poor circulation is positive. Incorporating lifestyle changes can make a person more active and healthier. However, untreated poor circulation can lead to very serious affiliations. These may not be easily treated if too much time goes by. You should take poor circulation very seriously. It is important to be proactive about this aspect of your health, as you can help prevent any worst-case scenarios.