Who’s at Risk for Circulation Problems?
Good blood flow is essential for cell function all over your body. Blood travels from the heart through arteries, carrying the oxygen and nutrients the cells need. Once they are delivered, your blood collects waste material from cells and carries it back through your veins to organs that filter and excrete it, and then through the lungs to be oxygenated again on the way back to the heart. The more efficient this process is, the better your cells function and the better your overall health.
There are several factors that make poor blood flow more likely. They include a family history of heart problems, smoking, obesity, and diseases like diabetes. Pregnancy increases the risk by adding pressure on blood vessels in the pelvic area. A lifestyle or job that involves a lot of sitting or standing can also contribute, as can an illness or injury that keeps you from being mobile. Then there is the normal deterioration of aging, as well as high cholesterol levels from poor eating habits.
Test for Detecting Poor Blood Flow
You can look for early signs, which are often seen in legs or feet. Two common disorders are peripheral artery disease (PAD) and peripheral venous disease (PVD). These affect blood flow in vessels and capillaries at the periphery of your circulation system—farthest from the heart.
Possible symptoms of PAD include leg pain or cramps when you are active, a tired feeling in the legs, or sores, lesions or discoloration on the skin. Hair loss on the legs and shiny, super smooth skin can also indicate circulation problems.
PVD—when the valves in the veins don’t close completely—allows blood to leak backwards between heartbeats. The blood pools and can cause symptoms such as varicose veins and swollen feet, as well as lead to dangerous blood clots.
In our office, we use a vascular test called the ankle-brachial index (ABI) to determine if there is a blood flow problem. Blood pressure measurements in your upper arm are compared to those in your lower leg, and if there is a difference, you may have PAD. We can also use the test repeatedly over time to see if the condition is improving or getting worse.
How to Improve Circulation in Your Legs and Feet
It really is amazing how simple diet adjustments (healthier food, less fat and cholesterol) and common sense exercise patterns (30 minutes most days doing activity that gets your heart going) can make a big difference in your blood flow. Prescription medications can also treat underlying conditions like diabetes, clotting disorders, or high cholesterol levels that contribute to the problem. Even if you are sedentary much of the day, wiggling your feet, jiggling your legs, or elevating them when seated can also help with circulation.