The Symptoms, Causes, and How to Improve Circulation in the Legs

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Leg with visible veins: "Symptoms, causes, & how to improve circulation in the legs."

Are you experiencing pains, numbness, cramps, and tingling in your legs?
Then you may be suffering from poor circulation.
Poor circulation can be caused when areas of your body receive a reduced level of blood flow 一 normally in your legs or arms.
However, it’s important to understand that the condition that’s causing your symptoms isn’t poor circulation itself, it’s another health issue that’s affecting your body’s circulation system.
There are several conditions that can lead to poor circulation in your legs, including heart conditions, diabetes, obesity, and arterial issues.
To better understand what could be causing these problems and how to improve circulation in the legs, we’ll delve deeper into the signs, symptoms, and causes of poor circulation.

What Does Poor Circulation in the Legs Mean?

According to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are around 8 million Americans who have poor circulation in their legs. You may become aware of this for a number of different reasons, whether it’s a wound on your leg that doesn’t heal or frequent pains when you stand or walk.
However, due to the number of conditions that poor circulation can be a signifier of, it’s important not to dismiss your symptoms.
The Symptoms, Causes, and How to Improve Circulation in the Legs

What Are the Symptoms of Poor Circulation in the Legs?

If you have poor circulation, you’ll often suffer from one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Stinging or throbbing pains in your legs
  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling

Nevertheless, every condition that could be contributing toward your poor circulation may induce other unique signs, too.
For example, this pain, numbness, and tingling may be combined with erectile dysfunction if you’re suffering from peripheral artery disease (PAD).

The Symptoms, Causes, and How to Improve Circulation in the Legs

What Causes Poor Circulation in the Legs?

Poor circulation can arise because of a whole host of different reasons, which we’ll explore individually below.

Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) causes your arteries and blood vessels to narrow, which leads to circulatory issues, including bad circulation in your arms and legs. This may also be linked to atherosclerosis, a condition that causes stiffness in the arteries as plaque builds up.
Both PAD and atherosclerosis can cause painful symptoms as blood flow is restricted to your arms and legs. Over time, this may even lead to further tingling and numbness, tissue damage, or nerve damage.
And when left untreated, this plaque and lack of blood flow in your carotid arteries could even cause a stroke. That’s because these arteries are responsible for feeding your brain with blood.
Equally, if this plaque builds up in the arteries of your heart, the risk of you having a heart attack dramatically increases.
Even though PAD can occur in young people, it is most common in those aged 50 and over. If you smoke, it increases your risk of developing PAD during your earlier years.

Blood Clots

The flow of blood can be reduced or blocked completely by a blood clot. This may lead to circulation problems when you develop a blood clot in your legs or arms.
The development of blood clots can result from a variety of different factors and, in some cases, they may be fatal. For example, if you develop a blood clot and this moves from your leg through your veins to another part of your body, e.g. your lungs, heart, or brain, it could cause potentially life-threatening problems, e.g. a stroke.
However, if a blood clot is identified early on, successful treatments can be carried out to reduce these deadly side effects.

Varicose Veins

Stemming from valve failure, a varicose vein is a lumpy, enlarged vein that tends to be located on your legs. As these veins have been damaged by valve failure, they aren’t as efficient at pumping blood around your body so may cause poor circulation. In rarer cases, varicose veins can lead to blood clots.
If you have a family history of varicose veins, you’re far more likely to have them yourself. Women, obese, and overweight people are at more risk of having them, too.

Diabetes

Even though diabetes directly relates to your blood sugar levels, it can also create bad circulation, which may lead to leg cramps alongside pains in your thighs, calves, or buttocks. You may find these cramps get worse when you’ve been physically active.
In advanced cases of diabetes, poor circulation can become harder to detect due to the reduced sensation that diabetic neuropathy causes in your arms and legs.

Obesity

Your body is placed under extra stress when you carry additional weight around with you. And when you’re overweight, if you stand or sit for extended periods of time, you may start to suffer from circulation issues.
Excess weight also increases your risk of developing one of the many causes of poor circulation in your legs, including problems with your blood vessels and varicose veins.
Raynaud’s Disease
When your poor circulation results in chronic cold feet or hands, you may have developed Raynaud’s disease. This causes narrowing of the smaller arteries in your feet and hands, which means they’re less efficient at pumping blood around your body. Therefore, this can cause some of the poor circulation symptoms we’ve mentioned above, which are often accentuated when you’re stressed or cold.
As well as your toes and fingers, you may also notice these symptoms in your ears, nipples, nose, and lips.
You’re more likely to suffer from this disease if you live in a cold climate or you’re a woman.

How is Poor Circulation in the Legs Diagnosed?

As poor circulation isn’t a condition in itself, the root cause of these symptoms will need establishing.
First, your doctor will want to assess whether there are any related diseases or cases of poor circulation in your family. This allows them to look at what potential risk factors there are, before determining what test they need to use to diagnose the problem.
After carrying out a physical examination, your doctor may ask for some other tests to be carried out. These include a blood sugar test (for diabetes), an antibodies blood test (which will detect things like Raynaud’s disease), a CT scan or ultrasound, a blood test that looks for blood clots (which is attributed to a high level of D dimer), and blood pressure tests.

What Outlook is There for People with Poor Circulation in Their Legs?

When the symptoms of poor circulation arise, you should consult your doctor about them so you can find out what may be causing them. When these symptoms are particularly uncomfortable, this often indicates that there’s an underlying problem.
If these principal conditions aren’t treated, complications can arise. That’s why your doctor will establish what’s causing your poor circulation so they can treat this issue effectively.
If caught early, a lot of the diseases that may result in poor circulation can be treated. But when they’re not treated, the disease may be developing and poor circulation can be a symptom of this. As we’ve seen, moving blood clots can cause fatal complications when they’re not treated correctly. So always endeavor to start an effective treatment plan with your doctor to retain a healthy lifestyle.

How to Improve Poor Circulation in the Legs

After speaking to your doctor about what may be causing your poor circulation, there are a number of things you can to manage and improve the symptoms. These include:

  • Wearing compression stockings to help improve the blood flow in your legs. They should also help ease any swelling and pain you’re experiencing
  • Increasing circulation with a regular exercise program that’s recommended by your doctor. This may include regular walks or swimming but won’t include anything too strenuous, especially if your circulation is quite poor
  • Keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels
  • Elevating your legs when you’re resting (recliner chairs are great for this)
  • Stopping smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fats
  • Drinking caffeine and alcohol in moderation
  • Avoiding staying in one position for extended periods, taking a break at least every hour

Treating your poor circulation may also involve one of the following, depending on what’s causing it:

  • Insulin (if diabetes is the root cause)
  • Endoscopic or laser surgery for varicose veins
  • Taking medication to dissolve clots
  • Taking blood thinners
  • Taking calcium channel blockers and Alpha blockers to treat Raynaud’s disease

A combination of all these factors should help alleviate those often painful symptoms you’ve been having as a result of poor circulation. It’s just vital the cause of your reduced circulation is found quickly as this will help you and your doctor take the necessary steps toward improving the circulation in your legs.

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