Poor circulation in the legs and feet can manifest in many ways. You may experience pain or cramping in the legs that fades when at rest, pale or blue toes, cold feet, numbness and tingling in the legs and feet, or thin and dry skin. If you notice any of these signs, consult with a vascular specialist.
Your heart beats around 100,000 times a day, pumping 1.5 gallons of blood throughout your circulatory system. Blood brings essential oxygen and nutrients to your cells and carries waste out. However, if your blood vessels become damaged, your blood cannot circulate as well as it should.
The most common cause of poor 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?
The buildup of plaque that results in peripheral artery disease is the leading cause of poor circulation in the legs and feet. Plaque is composed of calcium, fibrin, cholesterol, fatty substances, and cellular waste. When it accumulates in the arteries, plaque can significantly restrict the flow of blood, causing poor circulation or even cutting off circulation completely.
Many factors contribute to plaque buildup and can put you at greater risk of developing PAD, including smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
- Smoking: The chemicals in cigarette smoke damage your arteries, making it much easier for plaque to accumulate.
- Diabetes: 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: When you have high blood pressure, your heart pumps blood harder than it should, damaging your arteries.
- High cholesterol: Excessive cholesterol in the bloodstream gets deposited on the artery walls, creating a blockage.
The good news is that it’s possible to manage PAD risk factors like the ones above. For example, quitting smoking can lower your risk of developing PAD and help improve the outcome of treatments for existing PAD symptoms.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.
Other Causes of Poor Circulation in the Legs
While PAD is the most common cause of poor circulation in the legs and feet, there are others to be aware of. Venous insufficiency (damaged valves in the blood vessels that cause varicose veins) and Raynaud’s disease (a condition that causes the blood vessels in your feet and toes to narrow in response to cold or stress) can also impact circulation in your legs.
Deep vein thrombosis(DVT) is another serious condition that obstructs blood flow in the leg. DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in the deep veins of the leg, impacting circulation. This clot can break away and cut off the blood flow to the lungs, causing a life-threatening condition called 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 pulmonary embolism. If you experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical care.
What Does Poor Circulation in Your Feet and Legs Look Like?
Pain or cramping in the legs while walking that goes away when you rest can be an early sign of PAD. Other signs to watch for include cold, clammy feet and a pale or bluish discoloration of the feet and toes.
Poor circulation also produces dry, cracked skin on the legs, inhibits hair and nail growth, and prevents open wounds from healing. If you notice these symptoms, schedule a consultation with a vascular specialist.
Treatment For Poor Circulation in Legs
If you have poor circulation in the legs due to PAD, your doctor may recommend an angioplasty, stent placement, or atherectomy. These non-surgical procedures can help improve the circulation in your legs and feet and alleviate the symptoms of PAD, all with a short recovery time of one to two weeks.
- Angioplasty: This common procedure uses a catheter to guide a tiny balloon into the affected artery. The balloon is then inflated, compressing the blockage.
- Stent placement: A similar treatment to angioplasty that uses a mesh stent to keep the artery open permanently while preventing plaque from breaking off.
- Atherectomy: This treatment uses a rotating or laser catheter to scrape away the plaque buildup within the artery.
At USA Vascular Centers, our skilled doctors perform all three of these minimally invasive treatments in our state-of-the-art outpatient centers. Our 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 diagnostic tests to determine the cause: ankle-brachial index (ABI) tests and angiograms:
- Ankle-brachial index test: Your 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.
- Angiogram: Contrast dye is injected into the vascular system, which our vascular specialists use (in conjunction with X-ray imaging) to 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 skilled and compassionate vascular doctors are here to listen to your concerns and help you find answers about poor circulation in your legs. We look forward to helping you enjoy better blood flow and reduced PAD symptoms.
Is Poor Circulation in Legs Serious?
Poor blood circulation in the legs can have potentially serious complications. Low blood supply to the legs can eventually damage the nerves and tissues in the leg. Nerve damage can lead to altered sensation in the legs, including numbness and tingling. Without adequate blood supply, skin becomes dry and more prone to infections as open wounds fail to heal. A severely depleted blood supply can cause the limb to develop gangrene, the death of body tissue. In this case, amputation may be necessary to save your life.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a very serious cause of poor circulation in the legs. DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in the deep veins of the leg. This clot can break loose and lodge in the pulmonary artery, blocking the supply of blood to the lung (a dangerous condition called a pulmonary embolism). Sudden, severe leg pain, warm skin in the leg, and unusual leg swelling can indicate DVT. If you notice these symptoms, seek urgent medical care.
Can You Reverse Poor Circulation in Legs and Feet?
Whether poor circulation in the legs can be reversed depends on the underlying cause. PAD symptoms can be improved with treatment, but not reversed. DVT can be treated to diminish the size of the clot, with the possibility that the clot disappears completely over time. Other conditions like Raynaud’s disease and varicose veins can also be treated, but are not usually reversible.
In many cases, the goal of treatment is not reversal but management of the condition. For this reason, it’s more beneficial to focus on prevention than reversal. You can help lower your risk of developing poor leg circulation by staying active, eating a nutritious diet, and avoiding smoking. If you have diabetes, managing your condition well can go a long way toward helping prevent impaired circulation.
If you have been struggling to stay on top of your health, starting healthy habits now can help prevent future circulation issues and slow the progression of conditions like PAD.
How Do You Fix Poor Circulation in the Legs?
The first step in addressing poor circulation in your feet and legs is visiting a vascular specialist for an accurate diagnosis of the cause. From there, you can work with your provider to create and maintain a treatment plan based on your health history and the cause of the poor circulation in your legs.
Individuals with PAD will likely need a combination of lifestyle changes and medical treatments to alleviate the symptoms of poor circulation in the legs. Your doctor may recommend an exercise plan, a modified diet, medications, and minimally invasive procedures to improve blood flow through your peripheral arteries.
If you have deep vein thrombosis, your doctor may prescribe blood thinners (anticoagulants) to stabilize existing clots and prevent new ones from forming. You may also need to wear compression socks and elevate your feet while sitting down. Some DVT patients require surgery to install a filter that helps prevent the blood clot from traveling to the respiratory system.