Poor circulation and how to improve it

Poor circulation is a common complaint, especially as the days get colder. As our hearts beat, blood pumps around our bodies carrying the oxygen and nutrients we need to keep our muscles moving and our bodies warm.

Sometimes things can get in the way of this process, causing symptoms of poor circulation that usually affect our extremities such as hands and feet. It can also cause several other uncomfortable symptoms such as cracked skin and brittle nails. It can be helpful to diagnose circulatory problems to relieve discomfort.

Here, we explain some of the symptoms of poor circulation and what you can do to improve it.

What are the symptoms of poor circulation?

The most common symptom of poor circulation is feeling cold. This is most often in your hands and feet but often in your nose, lips, ears and nipples too. As well as feeling cold, this lack of circulation can also manifest as a numbness or tingling, or pins and needles. Sometimes, legs and ankles can swell as fluid accumulates.

For those with light skin, you may also notice skin changing colour. It may become more pale or blue in tone as red oxygenated blood fails to reach the area in sufficient quantities. This is most likely to happen in your extremities, although it’s sometimes apparent in the legs too.

You may also want to look out for pain in your muscles and joints. If oxygenated blood fails to travel around the body quickly enough, the muscles won’t get the energy they need. This means they can become stiff and sore. This may also cause you to feel fatigued when they don’t receive oxygen, and your heart is working harder to pump blood around the body.

What causes it?

Poor circulation can be caused by a number of factors. This includes problems with your heart and arteries, as well as conditions such as diabetes, peripheral artery disease and raynaud’s disease.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) causes the narrowing of the blood vessels in your body. This is due to fatty deposits that slow the movement of blood around the body and cause poor circulation as oxygen can’t reach all of the extremities quickly enough.

Raynaud’s disease is a condition that you may have if you notice you often have cold and hands and feet that change colour to a white or blue.

There are also environmental factors that can damage blood vessels and make it harder for our blood to travel efficiently round the body.

The nicotine in cigarettes, for example, can cause problems for the walls of your arteries and thicken your blood, which prevents it from travelling easily. Being overweight, or having high blood pressure and cholesterol can also be risk factors for poor circulation.

How can it be helped?

Making sure you get enough exercise is one of the best ways to improve your circulation. For those who have been diagnosed with PAD, the NHS suggests regular exercise can improve symptoms by reducing the fatty deposits in their veins. Exercise improves the body’s ability to use oxygen and circulate it around the body to the places that need it most. Moving often or even standing for a period of time while you work will encourage blood to flow better.

It’s also important to consider diet. Many saturated fatty foods can contribute to clogging arteries, which in turn will limit and slow blood flow. Maintaining a healthy weight can also contribute towards lower cholesterol and blood pressure, which will reduce your risk of symptoms. Around half of blood is made up of water too, so hydration is key to keeping your blood healthy and moving. Aim to drink two litres of water a day.

Developing healthy habits, including stopping smoking, are also great for reducing the risk of poor circulation.

The best way to ensure blood is travelling smoothly around the body is to maintain a healthy weight by eating healthily and exercising regularly. If you suffer from persistent symptoms, speak to a doctor who can run blood tests. They’ll also be able to discuss other conditions that can contribute to poor circulation.

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