Poor circulation is one of those medical phenomena that isn’t a condition on its own but is a fairly easily-recognizable symptom of potentially serious conditions. Every part of the body, from your organs to your bones and everything in between, relies on the nutrients your blood delivers through the circulatory system. Your lungs and muscles require a constant supply of oxygen; your blood transports waste materials and toxins to organs that can remove them from the body (i.e. carbon dioxide to the lungs), and white blood cells and platelets are taken to areas in the body that need repair or are at risk of infection. All of these functions and more rely on healthy circulation, however, you should be aware of symptoms of poor circulation.
However, there are a variety of conditions and diseases that can lead to poor circulation, some of which can be life-threatening if not caught in the early stages. Thankfully, the symptoms of poor circulation are usually easy to spot, as long as you know what to look for. The most common symptoms include:
- Tingling or numbness in the extremities (fingers, hands, arms, legs, feet, and toes)
- Sharp and/or throbbing pains in the arms and legs
- Muscle cramping
- Swelling or heaviness in the extremities
- Constantly cold extremities
- Non-healing wounds in the lower extremities
- Constant pain in the foot at rest
- Gangrene of the extremities
- Hip/buttock/thigh/calf cramps after walking a certain distance
It’s very likely that you’ve 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. You’ve probably also sat on a foot or in a position that led to your foot going numb. These kinds of incidents are examples of temporary, situational poor circulation, and 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 as a result of a more chronic condition or disease, that tingling and numbness or pain won’t correct itself so easily. If you’re experiencing those symptoms on a regular basis, you’ll want to consult with your doctor to determine the cause. The majority of circulatory conditions, serious or otherwise, can be treated, so don’t delay seeking help if something is wrong.
What are the 3 Common Diseases of the Circulatory System?
There are numerous diseases of the circulatory system, and it’s best to quickly determine whether or not your circulatory health is a result of any of them as well as symptoms of poor circulation. Some of the most common vascular diseases and conditions are:
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD):
PAD is most often the result of a condition called atherosclerosis, which occurs when fats and unhealthy cholesterol levels lead to plaque buildup in the blood vessels and arteries. This condition leads to PAD when the major arteries controlling blood flow to the body’s organs and limbs are either partially or completely blocked from these plaque buildups. Risk factors for PAD are most frequently found in patients also suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels. Smokers have a much higher risk of developing PAD than the general population. Patients who also have pre-existing coronary artery disease and patients with kidney failure are also at increased risk. Thankfully, there are several ways to better control PAD and help prevent serious outcomes such as:
- Sticking to a healthy diet, which your doctor or a dietitian can help you figure out
- Exercising regularly in whatever way works best for you
- Controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol levels through the above methods or through medication if necessary.
- Quitting smoking
- Controlling your diabetes
- Taking your prescribed medications such as Aspirin or other antiplatelet agents
If left unchecked, PAD can lead to serious leg pain, which may indicate blood clots or poor circulation which could lead to a multitude of problems including disabling pain, reduced ability to walk, gangrene, and even amputation. Because blood clots in the legs can be life-threatening, it’s crucial to try and prevent the condition from reaching this point. If clotting is unavoidable for whatever reason, however, 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, a vascular specialist can help you 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. Another important part of PAD is atherosclerosis of the carotid arteries or the arteries that supply blood to your brain. These arteries start at the base of your neck and lead to the brain. Blockages in these arteries can lead to stroke. The signs of a stroke include weakness in the arm or leg, paralysis, blindness in the eye, facial droop, and difficulty speaking to name a few. Patients with risk factors for PAD and CAD are also at risk for carotid disease. It is important that if you have risk factors for carotid disease, a simple diagnosis can be made by ultrasound testing. If you have a severe plaque build-up, a vascular surgeon can treat this problem either through surgery or the placement of a stent to help treat the blockage and prevent a stroke.
There are a wide variety of venous diseases with a wide range of severity. The two most common venous diseases are:
- Varicose veins occur when there is damage to the valves within your veins. These appear as swollen, ropy, darkly-colored veins visible just beneath the skin, and are usually found in the legs. Swollen veins cause blood to flow less efficiently, leading to poor circulation.
- Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI) is a condition that affects around 40% of the U.S. population and refers to a condition in which the venous walls in the legs fail to work efficiently and struggle to return blood to the heart.
An aneurysm refers to a part of an artery or blood vessel that has become unsafely enlarged due to weakened vascular walls. The biggest threat an aneurysm poses is its potential to rupture, which can prove almost immediately fatal depending on where the aneurysm is. Even in less severe cases, they lead to internal bleeding and possibly stroke. We call aneurysms, the “Silent Killer” because most patients don’t know they have them until it’s either too late and they have ruptured or they have been found incidentally. Aneurysms commonly exist within the abdominal aorta. If you have been diagnosed with an aneurysm, a vascular surgeon has many ways to treat this problem to help prevent it from rupturing. Most aneurysms can be fixed without major surgery and most patients are able to return to normal daily life in a matter of a few days.
Is Poor Blood Circulation Dangerous?
As indicated above, poor blood circulation has the potential to be incredibly dangerous. Some of the more serious side effects of untreated poor circulation are damaged tissues, nerves, veins, and arteries, all of which can cause a wide range of failures within the body. Even the less threatening side effects include symptoms that can disrupt your life, such as:
- Memory loss
- Digestive problems
- Ulcers in the lower extremities
- Regular discomfort from cold or numb extremities
When paired with other conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, the threat of poor blood circulation becomes much more immediate, which is why it’s vital that you discuss any symptoms and conditions with your doctor right away.
Can You Die from Poor Blood Circulation?
Unfortunately, yes. One of the most dangerous results of poor blood circulation is blood clots. Depending on the location of the clot, they can cause heart attack, stroke, paralysis, organ failure, and pulmonary embolism. Anyone of these events can prove fatal, especially if not caught in time for possible treatments and surgeries to be effective.
If you experience any symptoms that may indicate poor blood circulation on a chronic level, talk with our VASCULAR experts at Vital Heart & Vein as soon as possible. Make yourself aware of the signs of life-threatening conditions like blood clots and stroke, and 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 Vital Heart & Vein today.