Do your legs cramp and swell? A breakdown in your circulatory system could be the cause.
You may not think too much about your circulatory system, but it’s vitally important to your overall health. Your circulatory system consists of arteries that push oxygenated blood from the heart to your tissues and organs. Oxygenated blood has been exposed to oxygen in the lungs and flows away from the heart. Veins return the deoxygenated blood to the heart, where it gets another infusion of oxygen, and the process starts over again.
Sometimes, however, blood doesn’t flow as it should, and your circulatory system slows down, negatively affecting your health. Poor circulation can be a symptom of serious medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, peripheral artery disease (PAD), and chronic venous insufficiency. A vascular specialist can diagnose what may be causing your poor circulation and recommend treatments. But first, it’s helpful to know the signs of abnormal blood flow.
How Do I Know I Have Poor Circulation?
Poor circulation is a progressive disease, with symptoms worsening over time. As such, you may not notice symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage. Once symptoms like these below become apparent, you should have your veins checked by a specialist:
Cramping. This is a distinctive characteristic of varicose veins, resulting from poor circulation in the legs and feet due to broken valves that can no longer pump blood to the heart. When blood gets stuck in the veins, waste byproducts leak through the vein walls and irritate the tissues and muscles of your legs, leading to leg cramps, especially at night. As the blood pools, you'll experience leg cramps, among other symptoms. As the blood pools, you’ll experience leg cramps, among other symptoms.
Numbness. Numbness in the feet can be attributed to several causes, including vitamin B-12 or magnesium deficiency, diabetes, chronic venous insufficiency, or a narrowing of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque known as PAD. In addition to numbness, if you notice calf pain only when you walk or exercise, it could be a sign of PAD called claudication. A physician can diagnose the exact cause, but be aware PAD and diabetes are serious medical conditions requiring treatment.
Swelling. Do your legs swell over the course of the day? Although swelling can be traced to several conditions, it could be because your circulation isn’t functioning properly.
Heaviness. A common symptom of varicose veins is a feeling of heaviness in the legs. When blood pools in your veins from slowed circulation, pressure builds, and your legs will begin to feel heavy.
Cold Feet. When blood flows smoothly through your arteries, your body can regulate your temperature. But if your feet and hands always feel cold even when it’s warm, it could be a sign of poor circulation. Specifically, you may have a condition called Raynaud’s disease, which is marked by a narrowing of the small arteries in your hands and toes.
Varicose Veins. An obvious symptom of venous insufficiency, varicose veins develop when the tiny valves in the legs malfunction. These valves work against gravity to help keep blood from pooling in the legs and ankles. Eventually, the valves weaken, and blood pools in the veins. As more and more blood collects in the vein, the vein bursts out from under the skin and forms a visible varicose vein. Varicose veins have been associated with a higher risk of blood clots and slow-healing leg ulcers — both of which are side effects of poor circulation.
How Can I Treat Poor Circulation?
A vascular specialist or a primary care physician can diagnose what may be causing poor circulation. Conditions such as PAD and diabetes may require medical intervention or medications to address the issue and reduce symptoms. However, you can take steps at home in the meantime to improve your circulation and prevent more serious medical problems:
Take a Walk. A brisk, 30-minute walk or bike ride daily is one simple measure you can do to boost your circulation. As you walk, your muscles naturally contract the legs veins, which pushes blood through the veins.
Elevate Your Legs. To counteract the downward effect of gravity on your legs, prop your legs on a pillow so blood is directed to the heart. Elevating your legs each day can be especially beneficial if you work at a job where you sit or stand for long hours.
Wear Compression Stockings. Available in drugstores or by prescription, compression stockings apply continuous gentle pressure on the leg veins. This gentle pressure supports blood circulation through the leg veins.
Stretch Your Muscles. Stretching exercises like yoga poses can do wonders for your circulation. A yoga instructor can teach you the best positions to improve your blood flow.
Lose Weight. Excess pounds put extra pressure on your veins. Maintain your ideal weight through regular exercise and a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables. Also, stay hydrated. Drinking water throughout the day encourages efficient blood flow.
Get Treatment. Poor blood circulation is a treatable medical condition. Whether it’s caused by varicose veins, PAD, or diabetes, your doctor can recommend treatment options to enhance your circulation, so you feel much healthier.
Your Vein Care Specialists in Massachusetts
Center for Vein Restoration operates a vein clinic in Framingham. We offer the same state-of-the-art vein care we do at every one of our locations. In Framingham, our clinic is supervised by Dr. Pamela Kim, MD, RPVI, a board-certified vascular surgeon. Contact her today for a consultation.
463 Worcester Road
Framingham, MA 01701