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When Poor Circulation Signals a Deeper Health Issue

min read

By Catherine Roberts

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Gerald Morris

Poor circulation can occur when you’re cold or if you sit cross-legged for far too long in front of the television. However, pins and needles in your extremities (mainly the hands and feet) can also signal a more serious health conditions, ranging from heart disease to diabetes.

That’s why it’s not only vital to be familiar with the common causes of poor circulation, but also to be aware of the more serious underlying health conditions that chronic poor circulation can indicate.

Ten associated medical issues that trigger circulatory problems are…

1. High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, can signal and trigger circulatory problems. After all, high blood pressure is the initial reaction when blood flow is restricted to the organs. The heart will beat faster to increase blood flow and increased pressure will occur within the circulatory system, causing poor circulation, particularly to the hands and feet.

2. Smoking

If you didn’t already have enough reasons to “butt out,” smoking is a prime cause of peripheral vascular disease, a condition that restricts circulation in the legs and often causes infection and eventual leg and foot amputations.

3. Heart Disease

Heart disease, or more precisely peripheral arterial disease (PAD), restricts blood flow in the hands and legs. This serious heart condition results when arteries become blocked by fatty cholesterol deposits, causing them to narrow and restrict fresh blood flow throughout the body.

4. Injury

If an injury occurs to a certain area of the body, typically the extremities (i.e., feet, arms, or hands), inflammation can occur and healthy blood flow can be disrupted. Poor circulation may not become an issue until the swelling subsides, or once the area heals or is surgically mended.

5. Sedentary Lifestyle

Long periods of inactivity will often lead to circulation issues—for instance, if you sit in an uncomfortable position for a long time. However, if you sit constantly in the same position at work without moving (i.e., at a computer), your muscles may become weak and cause more chronic circulation issues. Make a point to get up and move around each hour to get the blood circulating to your muscles and to prevent repetitive stress injury.

6. Poor Diet

Eating too much fatty, sugary, or processed junk food is a common reason for poor circulation, which can lead to more serious health concerns. For instance, consuming high amounts of sugar and fat causes plaque buildup in the arteries and restricts blood flow. To clear arteries and prevent further plaque buildup, consuming less fat and sugar is a good idea, allowing smoother and increased blood flow throughout the body.

7. Raynaud’s Disease

One of the initial symptoms of Raynaud’s disease (or Raynaud’s phenomenon) is circulatory issues in the hands and feet. This condition prompts the narrowing of blood vessels in the extremities as a response to temperature (usually cold) or emotional stress, which causes spontaneous arm and leg spasms.

8. Obesity

We all know that being overweight causes the heart to work a lot harder. However, you might not know that obesity leads to circulatory issues when the heart must put in more of an effort to pump fresh blood throughout the circulatory system to supply the vital organs.

9. Buerger’s Disease

Buerger’s disease should be a prime concern for both smokers and diabetics. The condition increases both bad cholesterol and blood pressure, causing dangerous swelling and even blood clots in the blood vessels of the hands and feet.

10. Type 2 Diabetes

Compromised blood circulation is a common side effect of type 2 diabetes and is due to damage to the peripheral arteries in the legs and feet. The consequences of this reduced circulation ranges from developing heart disease to stroke, even causing amputations of the lower extremities if infection should occur due to artery damage.

MD, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine

Gerald Morris, MD is a family medicine/internal medicine physician with over 20 years expertise in the medical arena. Dr. Morris has spent time as a clinician, clinical research coordinator/manager, medical writer, and instructor. He is a proponent of patient education as a tool in the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic medical conditions.

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