by Angela Golden, DNP, FNP-C, FAANP, FOMA
Your circulatory system includes over 50,000 miles of your heart, lymphatic system, blood and blood vessels. Think of this as a road system inside your body. If the roads have bumps, get clogged or experience a blockage, the blood doesn’t move like it should. This creates poor circulation. Your circulatory system is responsible for moving nutrients and oxygen through the body and for removing waste.
Poor circulation isn’t a disease itself, but a symptom of many other conditions. Let’s look at ways to recognize poor circulation, improve it, and work with your healthcare provider along the way.
Simply put, poor circulation happens when your blood can’t move well through your blood vessels. Symptoms most commonly start in the areas furthest from the heart, like the hands and feet.
The source of the problem can vary. It can be in your arteries, which take oxygen and nutrients to cells; your veins, which bring blood and toxins back to the liver; or your lymphatic system, which drains fluids from your tissue. The problem could also be in your heart or kidneys.
Signs of poor circulation generally include pain, numbness, tingling in the feet, and cold hands and feet. Other signs can be dry skin, brittle nails, wounds (like scrapes) that heal slower, and muscle cramps that may worsen with walking. Men may have trouble getting or keeping an erection.
Varicose veins may appear as tiny lines on the skin that are bluish-purple. They may also appear as veins that are “bulging” when the valves aren’t working. Swelling and edema may also occur when circulation is impaired, especially in the legs.
In critical situations, people with poor circulation could experience chest pain, difficulty breathing or symptoms of a stroke if there is a blockage in an artery. In cases such as these, call 911 and get to a hospital immediately.
First, if you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, it’s crucial that you make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Poor circulation is often a symptom of another disease or condition, which is why it’s important to communicate with your physician, nurse practitioner or physician associate. Your healthcare provider will ask for your history, do a physical exam and likely run some tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Some of those tests include an ultrasound or a special blood pressure test that measures the blood pressure in your arm and leg. More invasive testing may be needed, such as an angiography, CT scan or cardiac stress test. You will also likely need blood tests.
A healthcare provider will base treatment on what is causing the poor circulation. Procedures may include opening a blocked artery with an angioplasty or bypass, removing a blood clot, or removing problematic varicose veins.
Treating diseases that cause a risk of poor circulation is also a primary focus. This includes addressing overweight and obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Your provider may prescribe medications to treat these chronic diseases and recommend compression stockings.
Almost all the recommendations for treating poor circulation are geared toward improving your cardiovascular health. These recommendations are designed to keep the blood flowing easily through the body and to reduce inflammation and damage to the blood vessels.
Poor circulation can be the result of many different diseases or conditions. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of poor circulation and to talk to a healthcare provider if you have concerns.
Once poor circulation has a diagnosed cause, work on a treatment plan with your healthcare provider and look at what measures you can take at home to help. Just pick one or two to start with. You can work toward better circulation in many ways and improve your overall health in the process.
About the Author:
Angela Golden, DNP, FNP-C, FAANP, FOMA, is the past president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). She is a current fellow of AANP and the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA). Angela owns NP Obesity Treatment Clinic in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she provides evidence-based obesity treatment. She earned the OMA’s NP/PA Certificate of Advanced Clinical Education and the Specialist Certification of Obesity Professional Education, both of which are internationally recognized certifications.
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