Poor Circulation Is Nothing to Ignore

Poor circulation can be the cause behind tingling feet or hands, or of fatigue or edema. Worse, it might indicate a serious disease that needs to be addressed.

poor circulation

Poor circulation, especially in hands and feet, could be a sign of a serious condition and is worth getting examined.

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Do you feel like your hands or feet are on “pins and needles”? That’s one of the most commonly described symptoms of poor circulation. If you think you’re battling poor circulation, it’s wise to get a diagnosis; it could be a symptom of a much more serious disease—including peripheral artery disease, stroke, heart attack, blood clots, and scleroderma.

Uncontrolled and, more important, undiagnosed poor circulation could even lead to amputation. Remember, poor circulation is a symptom resulting from something else. In and of itself, it is not a disease.

If you have poor circulation, your blood flow is compromised. For one reason or another, blood is not getting where it needs to be. Most people notice circulation problems first in the extremities, with that pins-and-needles feeling, but it can also affect the heart and other organs.

Blood circulation is how nutrients and oxygen are brought to your body’s organs. Poor circulation is starvation to them.

Common Symptoms of Poor Circulation

Most people initially notice symptoms of poor circulation in their hands and feet, but it’s possible to notice symptoms in your face, too, especially the lips, nose, and ears.

The most common symptoms of poor circulation include:

  • Cold hands, feet, fingers, toes (not season-related)
  • Fatigue, lack of stamina
  • Muscle cramps
  • Numbness, especially in the arms and legs “pins and needles”
  • Pain
  • Throbbing, tingling, stinging pain in your limbs

Because poor circulation has so many possible causes, it’s smart to tell your physician if you notice any of these signs:

  • Alopecia (hair loss)
  • Arrhythmia
  • Blood vessel “lumps”
  • Claudication (pain caused by reduce blood flow during exercise)
  • Cramps and pins and needles
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Edema
  • Headaches
  • Cramps during activities
  • Memory glitches due to poor blood flow to the brain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin blotches and changes in skin tone/color
  • Sores that do not heal well, skin infections
  • Varicose veins

Causes of Poor Circulation

A common cause of poor circulation is blocked or narrowed blood vessel, usually due to plaque building up and hardening in the walls of your blood vessels. Diabetes, thyroid disease, hypertension, and obesity can all lead to the problem.

Poor health habits are often behind poor circulation. Smoking, drinking in excess, bad diets, and insufficient exercise are widespread causes. Sitting too long in one position, especially in a cramped position like on an airplane, can result in poor circulation.

Improve Your Poor Circulation

As you read the causes of poor circulation, you probably already thought of ways you can improve it. Exercise is at the top of the list. Your FitBit is right when it reminds you to get up and move. Sitting behind a desk for eight hours is bad for your health, and getting up only to eat lunch and to take a couple of restroom breaks simply isn’t enough. You need to get up and move. If you can increase the amount of aerobic exercise you do—dancing, biking, mowing the lawn, swimming—all the better.

Exercise does not have to be strenuous, however. A walk, housecleaning, or going to the grocery store all count as exercise. In fact, if you’re battling the symptoms of poor circulation—like shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or pain of any type—you need to take it slow, discussing exercise limits with your physician.

Take steps also to start a heart-healthy diet—one that’s low in fat and high in fiber. Consider adding fish oil for the omega-3 benefits. Skip those desserts, and pay attention to your weight. Although getting your nutrients through a proper diet is best, supplements of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and magnesium may help.

Clearly, if you’re cold “all the time,” you need to keep yourself warm. Allowing your limbs to get too cold only worsens blood circulation. Some people battling Reynaud’s syndrome, where fingers turn blue or white due to poor circulation, put their fingers right in a bowl of warm water or use a hot-water bottle.

Treatments for Poor Circulation

Many treatments are available for poor circulation; they could be as simple as compression socks, aspirin, or a prescription drug. Treatment also may involve surgery. It all depends upon the cause.

Your physician will assess your symptoms and family history, looking at your risk factors and lifestyle. Determining the cause may involve some blood tests, a blood-glucose test, physical examination, blood pressure testing, and, possibly, an ultrasound or CT scan. Once the cause is determined, treatment options will be discussed.

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This article was originally published in 2018. It is regularly updated. 

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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Cindy Foley

Cindy Foley is the editor of several health reports, including Managing Your Cholesterol, Core Fitness, and Brain Power & Nutrition, among others. Foley has worked in the private medical practice field … Read More

View all posts by Cindy Foley

Comments Comments Policy
  • need advice , my sons leg is turning black & none of the doctor’s he’s seen are doing anything about it , he had compartment syndrome from carbon monoxide poisoining , the hospital operated on his arm but not his leg. Please give me advice as to what doctor will address this problem.
    Thank You, Marilyn Bagwell

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  • Hi, my wife currently in hospital and been treated for tummy pain, memory loss, digestive problems, fast heart rate she also not long ago jad swelling ankle, tummy, numbness on toe and ulcers on her legs, I asked doctor to check her blood circulation but been told that this is not possible, could you please give me some information that I can go back to doctor and explain as I am really concerned about my wife’s health.
    Many thanks

  • I want to say that I’m not a Medical Dr., and my comment is only my own research and experience, I am a person that have tried a tremendous amount of supplements and gadgets and you name it, although that kept me from getting worse and somehow age well, compare to other persons my age, I kept getting issues that kept me on edge.. I came to realize that is not what you take in, but is what you get rid off, and that is probable doing less, spending less, you can accomplish more, I know is sound contradictory but is not, see, the majority of supplements for the heart, and many other issues the main reason they work temporarily is because they help with circulation take cayenne for example, is an amazing spice to take, but is hard to do it in the amount needed, and if you take it in capsules it will hurt your tummy badly, saunas are great for the body because it will detox and your circulation is going to work so well but, is still a lot of work “for me” lol my point here is, if bad circulation and toxicity is the problem for the majority of the people, because we stay sitting for a long periods of time, we invite an array of problems, these cascade of problems in my case are cause by two easy to fix problems, toxicity and bad circulation, how I’m trying to fix them you may ask, by dry fasting, and using a small piece of equipment at home call LifePro, it will get my circulatory system going in no time, there are many brands I just happen to own this one and I love it, in my experience I can feel the pain leaving while on this machine for 15 minutes you just stand in that thing, no effort just allow the healing take place, and the Dry fasting is amazing for the toxicity issues, inflammation of any kind will subside in no time, I do 60 hrs, no food no water, refeed and rehydrate for 60hrs and go back for another 60hrs of fasting and the results are amazing, is easy for me cause I don’t have to cook for anyone and I don’t see anyone eating lol ,Yes every situation is different, but that is what I do. Take care.

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