Poor circulation is a symptom, not a condition in itself. If you have poor circulation, you are having a problem getting blood to the parts of the body that need it. Every part of the body depends on healthy circulation. Your lungs and muscles need oxygen, waste material is eliminated by organs that filter blood and remove toxins (i.e. carbon dioxide to your lungs), and white blood cells and platelets are taken where they are needed most–in areas where there could be an infection or damage to tissues.
However, there are a variety of conditions and diseases that can lead to poor circulation. Some of these conditions can be life-threatening if not detected in the early stages. Thankfully, the symptoms of poor circulation are usually easy to spot, as long as you know what to look for. Some common ones are:
- Muscle cramping
- Sharp pains in your extremities, such as your arms and legs
- Tingling or numbness in the extremities (fingers, hands, arms, legs, feet, and toes)
- Constantly cold extremities
You’ve probably experienced any or all of these symptoms before. Think of any time you’ve fallen asleep on top of your arm or with your wrist bent at an odd angle. Or when you sit on a foot or in a position that leads to your foot going numb. These kinds of incidents are examples of temporary, situational poor circulation. That tingling “pins and needles” feeling you have once you’ve resituated yourself is your body correcting your blood flow.
However, if you have poor circulation due to a more chronic condition or disease, that tingling, numbness, or pain won’t correct itself easily. If you’re experiencing those symptoms regularly, you’ll want to consult with your doctor to determine the cause.
What are the three most common diseases of the circulatory system?
A number of circulatory diseases exist, and it is best to quickly determine whether or not your circulatory health is related to any of them. Some common vascular diseases and conditions are:
There are a wide variety of venous diseases with a wide range of severity. The few of the most common venous diseases are:
Varicose veins are swollen and twisted below the skin’s surface, resulting from weakened or defective valves that allow blood to flow backward or stagnate within the vein. Chronic obstruction of the veins can also cause varicose veins, but no underlying abnormality can be identified in most cases. Varicose veins are quite common, though women are affected twice as often as men. Usually appearing in the legs, varicose veins may also occur in the anus, where they are known as hemorrhoids. While not a serious health risk, varicose veins can be eliminated for cosmetic reasons or if they cause discomfort.
Thrombophlebitis is the inflammation of a vein (usually in an extremity, especially one of the legs) that occurs in response to a blood clot in the vessel. When it occurs in a vein near the skin’s surface, it is known as superficial thrombophlebitis, which can cause pain and redness.
Deep-vein thrombophlebitis (DVT) is a more serious condition affecting the larger veins below the skin’s surface. It usually produces less-pronounced symptoms at first (half of all cases are asymptomatic) but carries the risks of pulmonary embolism (when the clot detaches from its place of origin and travels to the lung) and chronic venous insufficiency (impaired outflow of blood through the veins), resulting in dermatitis, increased skin pigmentation, and swelling.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is the narrowing of the arteries that bring blood to the arms and legs. PAD occurs most often in people with atherosclerosis, a condition in which fats and cholesterol accumulate in the walls of arteries. This buildup narrows or blocks arteries so they cannot supply blood to parts of the body, including arms and legs. Coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular disease are types of atherosclerosis. Risk factors for PAD include smoking, high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, high cholesterol levels (hyperlipidemia), Increasing age, and obesity.
You can prevent PAD by:
- Don’t smoke.
- Control blood sugar.
- Eat foods that are low in saturated fat.
- Get regular exercise — but check with your care provider about what type and how much is best for you.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Manage blood pressure and cholesterol.
People with peripheral artery disease (PAD) have a higher risk of developing blood clots in their legs, which can lead to pain, reduced ability to walk, gangrene and even amputation. It’s crucial to try and prevent the condition from reaching this point. If clotting is unavoidable for whatever reason and you experience intense leg pain while suffering from poor blood circulation, seek emergency medical attention. If you believe you may be suffering from some of the more mild or moderate symptoms of PAD, consult a vascular specialist who can help determine the right treatment option for you to help you get back to normal. These include a variety of options including medications, minimally invasive intervention or possibly surgery.
An aneurysm is a weak spot in the wall of a blood vessel that has become dangerously enlarged. Aneurysms can burst, causing internal bleeding or stroke, or remain unruptured. We call aneurysms the “Silent Killer”. This is because most patients don’t know they have them until it’s too late. If you have been diagnosed with an aneurysm, a Vascular surgeon has many ways to treat this problem. Their goal is to help prevent it from rupturing. Often, a skilled Doctor can heal them, and most patients can return to daily life in a few days.
What are the health risks of poor blood circulation?
Poor blood circulation can be extremely dangerous, as mentioned above. Some of the more serious complications include damaged tissues, nerves, veins, and arteries that can cause a wide range of failures within the body. Additionally, some less threatening but still disruptive side effects include symptoms such as:
- Memory loss
- Digestive problems
- Ulcers in the lower extremities
- Regular discomfort from cold or numb extremities
When hypertension and other conditions combine, such as diabetes or atherosclerosis, the threat of poor blood circulation becomes immediate. This is why it’s vital that you discuss any symptoms and conditions with your doctor right away.
Can poor blood circulation cause death?
Yes, unfortunately. One of the most dangerous results of poor blood circulation is blood clotting. This can cause heart attack, stroke, paralysis, organ failure, and pulmonary embolism. Any of these events might prove fatal if not caught in time.
If you experience chronic symptoms of poor circulation, such as numbness, tingling, pain or loss of sensation in your extremities and difficulty with walking or exercising, talk with Dr. Ayar at Coastal Vascular Center as soon as possible. Make yourself aware of the signs of life-threatening conditions like blood clots and stroke. Don’t hesitate to seek emergency medical attention if you experience them. If you have a manageable condition, work closely with your doctor to figure out a dietary plan and exercise regimen to help moderate risk factors of poor blood circulation and prevent life-threatening events. Schedule an appointment at Coastal Vascular Center today.