Poor Circulation: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

We all know how important the circulatory system is. Every cell in your body needs nutrients and oxygen and the circulatory system delivers this in addition to removing wastes from cells. Through a network of veins, arteries, and capillaries, blood picks up oxygen from the lungs and carries it to the all the organs in the body; it also transports carbon dioxide to the lungs where it’s exhaled and nutrients from the small intestine to cells.1 So if blood circulation is hampered it can cause serious problems like poor healing of wounds and tissue death (gangrene) in the affected part. And if blood flow to the heart is obstructed you can suffer from a heart attack while if the flow to your brain is obstructed you may suffer from a stroke. Now let’s take a look at the various factors that can hamper your blood flow and signs that could alert you to the fact that you have poor circulation.

What Can Cause Poor Blood Circulation?

Various factors may lead to poor blood


  • The most common cause of poor blood circulation is atherosclerosis, that is, the build-up of plaque in your blood vessels which causes arteries to narrow and harden reducing blood flow. Atherosclerosis can occur in the arteries of the brain(known as cerebrovascular disease), heart (known as coronary artery disease) or other parts of the body like your legs, arms, stomach etc (known as peripheral artery disease or PAD).
  • High blood sugar (diabetes) can weaken and damage blood vessels and make them narrow.
  • Blood clots (thrombus) in your blood vessels can obstruct the flow of blood.
  • Certain infections can scar blood vessels and cause them to become narrow. For example, salmonellosis or syphilis.
  • Inflammation of the arteries (known as arteritis) can also cause poor blood circulation.
  • A condition known as Raynaud’s disease can cause temporary narrowing of blood vessels in response to factors like stress and cold temperature.2

Symptoms Of Poor Circulation

Here are some signs of poor circulation that you need to watch out for:

  • You may feel an ache in your legs when you walk which
    generally eases after you rest for a while. This condition which is known as “intermittent claudication” could also feel like a cramp or heaviness in the legs.
  • Pain which worsens during exercise and eases up when you rest (usually observed in the legs) is a sign of poor circulation.
  • Muscular weakness and wasting of muscles can indicate poor circulation.
  • You may find that the part of your body which is affected feels cold. This cold sensation is usually experienced in the hands, arms, legs, and feet. And because your extremities feel cold when they don’t get sufficient blood to warm them this is indicative of reduced blood flow.
  • You could also experience numbness or a tingling sensation (like pins and needles) in the affected part.
  • Your skin might change color and become paler or get a bluish or purplish tinge. You might also find that parts of your skin start to blacken (gangrene). This is indicative of tissue death due to blood deprivation. Skin could also become shinier.
  • Your toenails could become brittle or grow too slowly.
  • You could experience hair loss on your feet and legs.
  • You
    might get sores which are slow to heal on your legs or feet.
  • The narrowing of arteries that supply blood to the genitals and consequent reduction in blood flow can result in erectile dysfunction in men.
  • If blood circulation in the brain starts to drop you might experience symptoms like confusion and light-headedness.

Do get immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms like chest pains, severe headache, sudden confusion, or loss of consciousness as these can be indicative of a stroke or heart attack.3 4 5

Are You At Risk?

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes (high blood sugar) can increase your risk for poor blood circulation. So can increasing age (over sixty years), a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. And if you smoke it can increase your chances of getting peripheral artery disease by two to six times.6 7

What Can You Do About It?

Your doctor may prescribe medication to treat atherosclerosis or prevent blood clots. Surgical procedures (for example, angioplasty, stent insertion, or bypass surgery) may also be used to treat narrowed blood vessels. And here are a few healthy practices that you can adopt to avoid poor blood circulation:8

Have A Balanced Diet

Having a healthy balanced diet with whole grains, healthy fats, lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy products and lots of fruits and vegetables can be helpful. Also limit the amount of added sugars, saturated and trans fats, sodium, and alcohol you consume. This can lower your risk for conditions like atherosclerosis, diabetes, and high blood pressure which can have an adverse effect on your blood circulation.9

Opt For Foods That Lower Your Risk

In addition to eating a healthy balanced diet, you can take advantage of specific foods that can lower your risk of poor blood circulation. For instance, the soluble fiber in oats and chickpeas can bind to cholesterol

and remove it from your body before it narrows your arteries. While both ginger10 11 and garlic12 13 can not only lower cholesterol levels but also reduce the formation of blood clots. Meanwhile, the nitrates in beetroot juice not only reduce the formation of blood clots but also help to lower blood pressure, which is another risk factor for poor blood circulation.

Exercise Regularly

Doing away with

a sedentary lifestyle and engaging in physical activity can also control risk factors like cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and diabetes. Getting in at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (for example, brisk walking) per week is a good idea. And if you have symptoms of PAD remember that a supervised exercise plan recommended by your doctor has been found to be an effective treatment for the symptoms of this condition. In any event, do talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise plan.14 15

Stop Smoking

If you smoke you can make a major difference to your health by quitting. Not only does it significantly raise your risk for conditions like PAD which cause circulatory problems it can also cause cancer.16