Warning Signs of Poor Blood Circulation

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Healthy circulation is vital to the effective functioning of your body. If your blood vessels become damaged or diseased, this can restrict blood flow to the body’s tissues and organs, depleting them of oxygen and much-needed nutrients. Dr Margarita Brida, consultant cardiologist, explains what the symptoms of poor circulation are, how you can improve your circulation, and what treatments there are to manage the condition.

What is poor circulation?

Vascular disease, the medical term for diseases of the veins and arteries, most commonly affects the arteries of the heart, brain, and legs. Diseases of the circulatory system are more common than heart disease and cancer, affecting around four million people in the UK and accounting for almost 40 per cent of deaths each year.

“One of the main causes of poor circulation is the hardening and narrowing of arteries due to a build-up of fatty substances called plaques,” explains Dr Margarita Brida. “If a plaque ruptures, it can cause a blood clot. This blood clot can block the blood supply to the heart triggering a heart attack, or it can restrict blood supply to the brain triggering a stroke.”

Meanwhile, narrowing of the arteries in the legs can restrict blood flow to the feet, in a condition known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD). This can make you more prone to injury, infection, and ulceration. Poor circulation can also cause your skin to heal more slowly.

Symptoms of problems with your circulatory system

1. Painful cramps 

You may experience painful cramps in your calf muscles during activity, and also possible in your hip and thigh, which improve after rest. The pain typically comes on each time after the same amount of exercise (e.g. walking the same distance at the same pace). This occurs due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients reaching your tissues effectively due to poor flow of blood.

2. Numbness, weakness and swelling 

Lack of blood supply to the extremities can result in feelings of weakness and numbness in these areas. When poor blood circulation interferes with the kidneys, it can lead to abnormal swelling, particularly in the feet.

3. Varicose veins

When the valves in the vein become weakened, blood and pressure builds up causing the veins just below the surface of the skin to twist and swell. They are usually blue or purple in colour and appear near the feet and ankles.

4. Exhaustion and feeling cold 

When blood supply is restricted, the body lacks the fuel it needs to maintain optimum energy and temperature levels. This can lead to lethargy and feeling colder than normal. Raynaud’s syndrome is a condition which affects your circulation, leading to your fingers and toes changing colour when you’re cold, anxious or stressed, accompanied by symptoms like pain and numbness.

5. Poor cognitive function 

The brain relies on blood flow to function properly, so reduced blood flow may result in difficulty concentrating and problems with short and long-term memory. Vascular dementia, which affects around 150,000 people in the UK, occurs due to reduced blood flow to the brain, and typically worsens over time. Symptoms can include problems with concentration, difficulty with planning and slower thoughts.

6. Weak immune system 

Poor circulation affects your immune system as the antibodies required to fight off infections are carried in your blood stream. This means that when your blood flow is restricted, you may find that you get ill more often, take longer to recover from illnesses, and any cuts and grazes also don’t heal as quickly.

7. Hair loss and weak nails 

Poor circulation of blood can prevent the roots of your hair from receiving adequate nutrients. If this occurs, your hair may become thin, weak and fall out. Similarly, poor circulation can prevent your fingers from receiving sufficient blood flow, with your nail beds starved of oxygen. This can result in brittle nails which break easily.

8. Disrupted bowel movements 

When blood flow slows down throughout the body, it can also lead to slower digestive processes. Over time, this can result in disrupted bowel movements including constipation, diarrhoea or abdominal pain.

9. Erectile dysfunction 

Men who have poor circulation because of clogged arteries may experience difficulties getting an erection due to insufficient blood flow in the reproductive organs. PAD is actually thought to be the cause of around 70% of cases of erectile dysfunction, and issues with getting an erection often signal greater circulatory issues.

10. Angina 

Angina is chest pain caused by restricted blood flow to the heart muscles. If you have poor circulation, your heart muscles won’t receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to function properly. Angina is indicated by a tight, heavy feeling in the chest – often described as cramping – which sometimes radiates across the arms, neck, jaw or back. It is a warning sign that you have an increased risk of a heart attack.