Common symptoms include:

  • numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • cold hands and feet
  • swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs
  • memory loss and difficulty concentrating
  • digestive issues
  • fatigue
  • joint and muscle cramping
  • skin color changes
  • ulcers in the legs or feet
  • varicose veins

The best treatment for poor circulation depends on the cause, and problems in the arteries or veins are often responsible.

Symptoms of poor circulation

The symptoms of poor circulation may not be apparent.

However, whether symptoms are obvious or not, poor circulation can be dangerous.

The following are common symptoms of poor circulation.

A person should report any of these to a doctor.

1. Numbness and tingling in extremities

One of the most common symptoms of poor circulation is numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.

When something is restricting the flow of blood, and blood cannot reach the extremities in sufficient quantities, a person may also have a sensation of pins and needles.

2. Cold hands and feet

Reduced blood flow causes the hands and feet to feel much colder than the rest of the body.

When blood cannot flow at healthy rates, this can lead to temperature fluctuations in the skin and nerve endings of the hands and feet.

3. Swelling in the lower extremities

Poor circulation can cause fluid to accumulate in certain areas of the body. This is called edema, and it often occurs in the legs, ankles, and feet.

Edema may also be a sign of heart failure. It can occur when the heart is unable to circulate an adequate supply of blood throughout the body.

Edema in the lower extremities can also develop when blood collects in those areas. Pressure builds, forcing fluid from the blood vessels into surrounding tissues.

Symptoms of edema include:

  • heaviness and swelling
  • tight, warm skin
  • stiff joints
  • pain in affected areas

Some people notice that they have edema because clothing or jewelry starts to feel tight.

If a person with edema presses on the affected area, they may leave an indentation in the swollen skin.

Also, when fluid that contains proteins collects in the abdomen, this is known as ascites. Circulation problems and liver cirrhosis can be responsible.

4. Cognitive dysfunction

Poor blood circulation can affect the functioning of the brain, leading to memory loss and difficulty concentrating.

These and other cognitive problems can result from:

  • a reduction in the flow of blood to the brain
  • a reduction in the amount of blood pumped throughout the body
  • certain changes in blood pressure

5. Digestive problems

Digestion relies upon blood flow, and poor circulation may be linked to fatty matter that can collect in the lining of blood vessels in the abdomen.

Digestive problems related to reduced blood flow include:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • bloody stools, constipation, and cramping.

6. Fatigue

Poor blood flow affects energy levels and can cause fatigue.

Also, the heart must pump harder when circulation is poor, which can lead to further fatigue.

Atherosclerosis is among the most common causes of poor blood circulation.

It occurs when plaque builds up in blood vessels, especially in the arteries.

This buildup eventually narrows and hardens the arteries, eventually restricting blood flow.

Atherosclerosis commonly affects the arteries of the brain, the heart, the legs, and the arms.

When atherosclerosis develops in the upper and lower limbs, this is called peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Diabetes mellitus

Diabetes can cause circulation problems and related conditions, such as PAD.

Over time, high levels of blood glucose can damage blood vessels and cause plaque to build up. It is essential for people with diabetes to correctly manage their blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels to maintain healthy blood flow.

Diabetes can cause nerve damage, and high levels of glucose may lead to a condition called diabetic neuropathy. One type of this condition can also affect a person’s blood pressure and heart rate.

Blood clots

A clot in a blood vessel can restrict blood flowing to or from organs or tissues. In some cases, a clot completely blocks the flow of blood.

A blood clot can be painful, and if a clot travels, it can have severe consequences, such as:

  • a heart attack
  • a stroke
  • an embolism in a pulmonary artery that damages the lung

Blood clots can develop anywhere in the body and lead to circulation problems. However, if a doctor detects them early, treatment can be successful.

Being overweight

Extra weight places a burden on the body, especially if a person does a lot of sitting or standing.

Added weight also increases the risk of blood pressure problems and varicose veins.

Raynaud’s disease or phenomenon

This condition causes blood vessels to narrow, and it affects 5 percent of the population in the United States.

Narrowed vessels and restricted blood flow can cause numbness, tingling, and a cold feeling in the hands and feet, and the effects may become more severe with time.

Smoking tobacco products

Smoking increases the risk of developing conditions that cause poor circulation. It also interferes with the flow of blood, damages the walls of blood vessels, and causes plaque to build up in veins.

These effects increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, strokes, and heart attacks.

Diagnosis and treatment

Poor circulation occurs with a range of conditions. Before making a diagnosis, a doctor will consider a person’s:

  • symptoms
  • risk factors
  • any related conditions
  • family medical history
  • the results of a physical examination

The doctor will then order tests, which may include:

  • blood sugar testing for diabetes
  • blood tests to detect inflammatory conditions
  • ultrasound or CT imaging to examine the blood vessels and check for clots
  • an ankle-brachial index to check for PAD

Treatment for poor circulation will depend on the underlying cause. The following lifestyle changes can also help:

  • quitting smoking
  • losing weight
  • eating a healthful diet

Wearing compression stockings can help to manage pain and swelling in legs. Some people also benefit from attending exercise programs designed to improve circulation.


Conditions that cause poor circulation are easier to treat when a doctor detects them early.

If a person does not receive treatment, they may develop life-threatening complications, including blood clots and infected skin ulcers. Some people require amputation.

It is essential to report symptoms of poor circulation to a doctor, to receive appropriate treatment, and to maintain a healthful lifestyle.

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