Reports say that millions of American's suffer from circulation problems. The terrible thing is, most don't even know it.
It's true! While there are many symptoms, they're often so subtle and vague that they go unreported for years — even decades.
And as the saying goes, "where there's, smoke there is fire."
Circulation problems are always a sign of a bigger issue. In fact, there are many underlying causes.
Conditions ranging from anemia (low hemoglobin levels) to major blood vessel blockages within the circulatory system cause circulation problems.
And because the circulatory system is so vast, the range of symptoms triggered by poor circulation is equally broad.
Let's dig deeper:
Usually, you first notice poor circulation in your extremities like your feet and hands. You may experience tingling, pain, swelling, and cold.
These problems alone are lifestyle threatening because they interfere with your ability to get around.
Mobility is the number one concern for many people who are part of a generation that fully intends to defy aging.
Now, are you ready to hear some good news?
Poor circulation in your feet and ankles is easy to treat. Indeed, most of the underlying causes behind your poor circulation are treatable.
But how do you know when it's poor circulation or something worse?
Circulation Problems Are A Whole Body Issue
As a human, you're a natural fixer. If your feet are cold, you put on some socks. If you feel tingling in your hands, you instinctively rub them.
But do you ever wonder why the symptom returns?
It's easy to look at isolated symptoms and imagine that you have a problem in that local area. However, circulation problems are always more complex than they first appear.
What is the one part of the body that doesn't have a blood supply?
- The cells that make up your cornea (the outer part of your eye) do not have blood vessels.
Your Circulatory System: The Sweet And Lowdown
You probably know that the heart pumps blood through your body. You may know that your lungs add oxygen to the blood.
But what does this have to do with swelling in your feet and ankles?
Take a look:
Also called the cardiovascular (CV) system, your circulatory system works like a network for blood with your heart as its hub.
Did you know?
Your CV system is made up of organs from three separate body systems that work together. These include the heart, lungs, and peripheral. The CV system also involves arteries, veins, and portal vessels.
It starts with the heart
Your heart is made of special cardiac muscle.
Here's how it all works:
When the muscle come in contact with your body's natural electrical charge, it generates contractions. The individual chambers of the heart then pump blood through your circulatory system.
This causes blood to squeeze through the vessels of your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.
In humans, your CV system involves circuits.
Go with the flow
Veins are blood vessels that carry blood to your heart. Arteries are the muscular vessels that carry blood away from the heart.
Capillaries carry blood to the most distal areas of your body like your skin and fingertips. These tiny vessels also serve as a bridge from your arteries to your veins. However, they all work together.
Blood from the heart is pumped throughout the body using blood vessels.
Arteries take your blood away from the heart and into capillaries, providing oxygen (and other nutrients) to tissue and cells.
Once oxygen is removed, the blood travels back to the lungs, where it is reoxygenated and returned by veins to the heart.
Are you a blueblood? We hope not! Very dark blood indicates a poor oxygen supply.
However, your veins do appear blue underneath the skin because that's how your eyes perceive color.
It also depends on how well the light penetrates your skin. Thinner skinned or pale folks have bluer-appearing veins.
Salute the major blood vessels
The following are the major blood vessels in your body and the areas they serve:
Of blood and oxygen
Without oxygen, life as you know it would end.
The reason is simple:
Humans (and most living organisms) need oxygen to live. This is true down to each and every cell in our bodies.
Distributing oxygen is the primary goal and objective of the circulatory system.
Did you know?
Image via Giphy]
Oxygen hitches a ride in the center part of the red blood cell called hemoglobin.
Low hemoglobin levels mimic the signs and symptoms of circulation problems. This is because both conditions cause oxygen deprivation at the cellular and tissue level.
But that's not all:
Other conditions cause low oxygen levels too. These are:
The ABCs Of PVD
Peripheral vascular disease or PVD refers to diseases of any blood vessels located outside the heart and brain. It's often caused by the narrowing of the vessels that carry blood to and from the arms, legs, and organs.
PVD and peripheral artery disease (PAD) are the leading causes of circulation problems.
Here's the thing:
Raynaud's is a rare disease that causes blood vessels to rapidly constrict. Triggers are cold temperatures, extreme stress, smoking, and even working with machinery that vibrates.
Organic PVD requires structural defects in the blood vessels. These include blockages from fatty build-up, hardening of the arteries, inflammation, lesions, and tissue damage.
If you fit certain criteria, you're probably at risk for peripheral vascular disease.
A risk factor is a factor that increases your chance of getting a disease. Some risks are reversible while others are not.
Genetics is a risk factor that you can’t change. However, smoking, obesity, and inactivity are things you can work on.
There are a few other risk factors of developing circulation problems related to PVD as well.
Let's take a look:
Fixed risk factors:
Age over 50
Variable risk factors:
Heart disease including coronary artery disease
Think of it this way:
If you smoke or have diabetes, you are in the highest risk group for developing complications from PVD like circulation problems.
That's because these risk factors also cause impaired blood flow.
Getting Cold Feet And Other Symptoms Of Circulation Problems
So, now you know what causes circulation problems. It's time to talk about the most serious symptoms you don't want to ignore.
The good news is that not everyone will experience every symptom. Further, if you treat the underlying causes of poor circulation, you'll eliminate the symptoms altogether.
The longer you wait to fix your circulation problems, the more dangerous the symptoms become.
Arm or leg pain
Leg pain from poor circulation ranges from tingling and numbness or stabbing sensations to deep aching pains.
Nevertheless, no leg pain should be ignored.
When things get complicated
If the circulation problems in your arms and legs get worse you will feel pain all the time. Even when you aren't exercising, your legs or arms will still feel cold to the touch.
Severe untreated peripheral artery disease (PAD) leads to damage and poor skin health.
Sores and ulcers develop more easily. Because of poor blood flow, injuries like these may get infections that cause gangrene and require amputation.
Here's what to do about it
The best way to treat claudication is reversing as many risk factors as possible and striving to maintain a healthier lifestyle.
If these measures don't work, your doctor may require more testing and advise other interventions.
Circulation problems can cause fluid build-up in a few areas of your body.
This type of swelling or edema often occurs in your legs, ankles, or feet. It may also impact your arms, hands, and fingers.
You may notice you have edema when your clothing or jewelry begins to feel tight.
Edema is often a sign of heart failure. However, it is also one of the first signs of poor circulation.
Here's what happens:
Edema develops when blood collects in dependent areas of the body. Pressure then builds, which forces fluid out of the blood vessels and into the surrounding tissues.
Symptoms of peripheral edema include:
One more thing:
If fluid containing proteins collect in the abdominal area, it is ascites. Circulation problems around the liver are often the cause.
What you can do
For swelling in your legs, feet, and ankles you can wear compression stockings. These lycra or spandex knee-length or thigh-high stockings are helpful in decreasing the swelling and pain while improving mobility.
Cold extremities and blue, purple, or dusky skin
There is an old saying that goes, "Cold hands -- warm heart." It suggests that souls with cold hands actually have a more kind and loving countenance than those who are physically warmer.
More aptly, it might say "Cold hands -- poor heart," or at least "-- poor circulation."
A blue tinge to the skin indicates a problem with blood flow and poor oxygenation of the skin.
This is why it happens
Circulation problems stop blood from getting back to your heart where it gets more oxygen. Sometimes poor circulation stops oxygen from reaching your hands and feet due to other reasons.
This means your tissues aren’t getting the oxygen-rich blood they need.
Poor blood circulation affects your brain function. In many, this leads to memory loss and problems with focus and concentration.
Cognitive problems include:
You lose around 100 hairs daily without even noticing. However, if you've been noticed an unusually large amount of hair in your brush or on your pillow, it may be a sign of circulation problems.
Experts tell us that we need a good blood supply to grow healthy hair. Thus, it stands to reason that poor circulation causes hair loss.
Further, pay attention to hair loss in other areas like your legs. Notably, hair loss on a man's legs is a sign of PVD and arterial insufficiency.
Over 50 percent of men between age 40 and 70 years old experience impotence or severe ED — erectile dysfunction.
While there are many other possible causes of ED, the most common is PVD.
Specifically, it is caused by arterial disease where pelvic blood flow slows due to blockages or atherosclerosis.
But there is good news:
A recent study shows excellent progress in curing this type of ED by using intervascular stents.
Read on to learn more about angioplasty and stenting.
Hey Doc! Let's Have A Heart-to-Heart About Circulation Problems
Talking to your doctor about circulation problems shouldn't be hard. Consider keeping a journal of your symptoms to make sure you don't forget anything.
However, it also helps to know what to expect at your first appointment.
Arrive early. You'll need the extra time to fill out all of the paperwork. Bring any medical records you may have. Take a list of all current medications including any supplements. Discuss any family medical history that is relevant to your circulation problems.
Diagnosing circulation problems
Doctors can often diagnose poor circulation just by looking at the limb and feeling for a pulse or change in temperature, but sometimes more invasive tests are necessary.
Here are a few common tests:
This is an invasive test that reveals what the inside of your arteries and veins look like. It is used to detect any blockages or narrowing.
A specially trained doctor inserts a thin and flexible tube into one of your leg arteries. Next, a contrast dye goes in. The contrast dye highlights the arteries and veins, so they are more visible on the x-ray.
This is a non-invasive test for comparing blood pressure readings in various extremities. A Doppler or ultrasound device helps to gain more insight.
Doppler ultrasound flow study
Your doctor may order the Doppler study to assess areas where he suspects a decrease in the flow of blood. Faintness or absence of pulsation sound indicates a blockage.
Magnetic resonance angiography
This test is minimally invasive that uses a combination of MRI and angiography to make blood vessels more visible. To achieve this, a special dye is injected.
Exercise stress test
For this test, you'll walk on a treadmill or "pedal" an arm ergometer. This test allows your doctor to monitor your blood circulation while your exercising.
If you can't exercise, the doctor may recommend a reactive hyperemia test.
Please note: While we take great care in providing high-quality and heavily-researched information, it does not take the place of medical advice.
How To Get Your Flow Back
Make sure you are getting enough to eat. Additionally, consult with a dietician to make sure you don't feel hungry. Make sure you are getting enough to eat. Additionally, consult with a dietician to make sure you don't feel hungry.
However, even if you are eating plenty of food, your food may not contain the nutrients your body needs for health.
Nutrient-dense foods contain minerals, protein, and are lower in calories. At the same time, research shows they help control your weight, and lower your cholesterol and blood pressure.
Here's what a healthy diet looks like:
Finally, avoid processed foods and prepared meals from fast food restaurants.
Supplements that may help
A study shows that Omega-3 supplements benefit users with PVD and intermittent claudication. They are shown to reduce blood pressure and decrease triglyceride levels.
Other supplements likely to help include:
[This image taken from Pexels]
Exercise improves circulation and mobility
You may be wondering, how does exercise help?
Several ways, really:
First, it helps train the muscles to use oxygen more effectively. Therefore, even though they are getting less oxygen, your muscles behave more efficiently.
This adds up to less pain during daily activities like walking.
Exercise also increases your chances at weight loss. Besides, controlling your weight is important if you have co-occurring conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or a history of tobacco use.
Compression is the gold standard in treatment for edema caused by circulation problems.
The use of compression and massage dates back to 1930s. However, back then, they weren't able to optimize the pneumatic compression.
Presently, devices apply just the right amount of pressure via compression cuffs that go on the thighs, calves, and feet.
The programmed devices inflate and deflate with pressures that vary between cycles.
Can pins and needles cure pins and needles?
The use of acupuncture for healing started several thousands of years back, in China. Today, it is still useful in treating poor circulation.
It works like this:
Precisely applied acupuncture needles relax your blood vessels and decrease stress. Therefore, it aids in reducing blood pressure.
It is so effective that studies show high blood pressure normalizes during treatment. Some experts say that it's possible to maintain healthy levels for one year after the initial treatment.
Acupuncture also improves the circulatory system. This is especially true for patients experiencing poor circulation in the feet and legs.
Also, acupuncture helps restore oxygen to the tissues and purportedly removes lactic acid build-up.
If your doctor diagnoses you with circulation problems like PVD, you may get a prescription for a low-dose aspirin. This treatment reduces your chances of getting blood clots.
However, never put yourself on an aspirin regimen. Studies show this is both ineffective and dangerous. In this case, your doctor knows best.
But that's not all:
Another type of medication to help prevent blood clots are blood thinners like Plavix, Persantine, and ticlopidine.
If you have any blockages, your physician will also prescribe something to lower your cholesterol. The most common drugs in this class are statins.
Why it works
Concurrently lowering your cholesterol and thinning your blood helps prevent new blockages and slows the progression of hardening of the arteries.
Balloon angioplasty and stents
PVD, especially peripheral artery disease, may require invasive angioplasty.
Similar to the diagnostic test known as angiography, this procedure widens arteries that have a blockage.
Here's what to expect:
A catheter — like a large IV needle — slides into an artery near the blockage. Afterward, a narrow tube is introduced into your vessel.
A skilled doctor then guides it to the blockage.
At the end of the tube, there is an inflatable balloon that opens to widen the artery. A mesh stent can help improve circulation and keep the artery open long-term.
Don't Back-Burner Circulation Problems
It's scary to learn your poor circulation is because your blood vessels are narrowing or you have a condition like Raynaud's.
But don't panic yet:
Learning all you can about the underlying cause of your circulation problems is key to controlling the symptoms.
Also, you'll learn exactly which steps work best to ease your pain. Accordingly, staying in control is empowering.
You may find it helpful to share your experiences with other people experiencing the same issues.
Support groups are an excellent way to find encouragement, get advice, and even connect with an exercise partner. Ask your doctor to recommend a support group in your area.
Are you experiencing circulation problems? Drop us a comment below and let us know what you are going through.