Every day, your heart beats around 100,000 times, pumping 1.5 gallons of blood throughout your circulatory system. Blood carries nutrients to your cells and carts waste out of them, keeping your body healthy and strong. When vascular disease develops, however, blood can’t circulate as well as it should. Many signs of vascular disease are well known, particularly those that can lead to heart attack and stroke, but what about poor circulation in the legs? The main culprit behind poor blood circulation in the legs is peripheral artery disease, or PAD.
PAD is caused by plaque accumulation in the arteries that supply blood to your legs and feet. While this may seem like a minor issue, PAD can lead to gangrene and amputation if left untreated. PAD is also a sign of increased risk for heart attack and stroke. At USA Vascular Centers, our trusted vascular doctors are dedicated to raising awareness of this condition and providing PAD treatments to help you avoid serious complications. With over 40 locations nationwide, our team is ready to serve your community.
What Causes Poor Circulation in Legs and Feet?
While PAD is the most common cause of poor circulation in the legs, many factors can affect your arteries and put you at risk of developing PAD. Smoking and diabetes are two of the leading causes of poor circulation in the legs.
The chemicals in cigarette smoke damage your arteries, making it much easier for plaque to accumulate inside them. A substance composed of calcium, fibrin, cholesterol, fatty substances, and cellular waste, plaque can significantly narrow the insides of your arteries, causing poor circulation in the legs or even cutting off circulation completely.
Diabetes causes too much sugar (glucose) to circulate in your bloodstream. Like cigarette smoke, high blood glucose levels can harm your arteries, leading to plaque accumulation and poor circulation in the legs and feet.
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can also contribute to poor blood circulation in the legs and can lead to PAD. When you have high blood pressure, your heart pumps blood harder than it should, causing damage to your arteries. High cholesterol means there is too much cholesterol in the bloodstream and it’s being deposited on the artery walls, contributing to plaque accumulation.
The good news is that it’s possible to manage PAD risk factors like smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. For example, quitting smoking can lower your risk of developing PAD and can help improve the outcome of treatments for existing PAD.1 Diet changes, exercise, and medication can help manage diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, lowering your risk of developing poor circulation in the legs and feet.
Causes of Poor Circulation in the Legs that Aren’t PAD-Related
Even though it’s the main risk factor, PAD isn’t the only potential cause for poor circulation in the feet and legs. Varicose veins can impact blood circulation, as can Raynaud’s disease, a condition that causes the blood vessels in your feet and toes to become narrow in response to cold or stress.
Some causes of poor circulation in the legs are life-threatening, such as deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism. DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in the leg, impacting circulation. The clot can break away and travel to the respiratory system, cutting off blood flow to the lungs (pulmonary embolism).
Signs of poor circulation in the legs due to DVT include sudden swelling, pain, or tenderness in the leg, and skin that feels warmer than usual. Chest pain, difficulty breathing, pale or bluish skin, and sweating can all be signs of a clot that has broken away from the leg and become a pulmonary embolism. If you experience these symptoms, seek emergency medical care.
What Does Poor Circulation in Your Feet and Legs Look Like?
Skin discoloration is one of the most easily identifiable signs of poor circulation in your legs or feet. Does one of your legs look abnormally pale? Is your foot a bluish or purplish color? You may be living with poor circulation in the feet and legs. If PAD is the reason behind the poor circulation in your legs, you may notice other symptoms of poor circulation in the legs, such as toenails that seem to stop growing, patchy leg hair, and open sores on the feet or legs.
Other symptoms might be less visible, such as frequently feeling like your leg or foot has fallen asleep. Signs of poor circulation in the feet and legs can also include numbness, muscle pain and weakness when you walk, and skin temperature changes.
Poor Circulation in Legs Treatment
When PAD is the reason behind your symptoms of poor circulation in the legs, treatment often involves compressing the plaque against the walls of your artery (angioplasty), placing a mesh stent inside the artery to compress the plaque and prop the passageway open (stent placement), or removing the plaque using a laser or blade (atherectomy).
At USA Vascular Centers, our skilled vascular doctors perform all three of these minimally invasive treatments in our state-of-the-art outpatient centers. In addition, our outpatient centers are certified by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, demonstrating our commitment to the highest standards for patient care.
If you don’t know whether PAD or another condition is causing poor circulation in your legs or feet, our doctors can perform two diagnostic tests to find out: ankle-brachial index (ABI) tests and angiograms. In an ankle-brachial index test, the vascular specialist measures the blood pressure in your arm and compares it with the blood pressure in your ankle. This helps signal whether PAD is the cause of poor circulation in the legs.
During an angiogram, contrast dye is injected into the vascular system. Our vascular specialists will use this dye, along with X-ray imaging, to help find the exact location of a blockage.
Schedule Your Appointment
If you’re not sure what’s behind the poor circulation in your legs, reach out to our team at 888-773-2193 or schedule an appointment online. Our empathetic vascular doctors are here to listen to your concerns and help you find the answers to questions about poor circulation in the legs. We look forward to helping you restore circulation in the legs and enjoy a life with reduced PAD symptoms.
- Wang, Weiming, Tingting Zhao, Kang Geng, Gang Yuan, Yue Chen, and Youhua Xu. “Smoking and the Pathophysiology of Peripheral Artery Disease.” Frontiers. Frontiers, July 31, 2021. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcvm.2021.704106/full