Circulation is the process by which the heart pumps blood around the body. Good circulation is vital to good health. Poor circulation in the feet can cause the feet to become cold, discolored, or numb. Sometimes, it is a symptom of an underlying condition. The body transports blood, oxygen, and nutrients to cells through the circulatory system, all the way from the heart to the toes. If blood vessels in an area close, harden, or narrow, a person may develop reduced circulation.
Poor circulation can make your foot less able to fight infection and to heal. Diabetes causes blood vessels of the foot and leg to narrow and harden. You can control some of the things that cause poor blood flow. Do not smoke; smoking makes arteries harden faster. Also, follow your diabetes care team’s advice for keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol under control.
If your feet are cold, you may want to warm them. Keep aware that, unfortunately, if you have nerve damage, your feet may not be able to feel heat properly and it is easy for you to burn them with hot water, hot water bottles, or heating pads. The best way to warm cold feet is to wear warm socks.
Some people feel pain in their calves when walking fast, up a hill, or on a hard surface. This condition is called intermittent claudication. Stopping to rest for a few moments should end the pain. If you have these symptoms, you must stop smoking. Work with your diabetes care team to get started on a walking program. Some people can also be helped with medication to improve circulation. Exercise is good for poor circulation. It stimulates blood flow in the legs and feet. Walk in sturdy, well-fit shoes, but don’t walk when you have open sores on your feet.
Signs and symptoms
Along with feeling cold or numbness in the feet, people with poor circulation may also notice discoloration. The feet may turn red, blue, purple, or white.
These symptoms may worsen in certain situations, such as when a person sits for long periods of time or is exposed to cold weather. However, for some, these symptoms may be chronic or flare up due to an underlying condition. Additional symptoms of poor circulation can include:
• Dry or cracked skin;
• Hair loss on the legs or feet;
• Weak toenails;
• Slow-healing wound.
Below are some of the underlying conditions that may cause reduced circulation:
• Raynaud’s disease syndrome. This causes blood vessels to narrow when someone is cold or, sometimes, when stressed. This limits the amount of blood flowing to the fingers and toes.
• Acrocyanosis. A condition that causes the extremities, such as the toes, to turn blue. This occurs when the blood vessels constrict, preventing blood flow and oxygen from moving through that part of the body.
• Diabetes. If a person has diabetes, they are at risk of their blood vessels becoming damaged. This may happen if they experience high blood glucose levels for extended periods of time. If a person with diabetes does not receive any treatment, they could develop reduced circulation in the feet, as well as foot ulcers that do not heal. Managing diabetes effectively can help prevent foot problems. People with diabetes should receive an annual foot examination to make sure they have not developed poor circulation, ulcers, or neuropathy.
•Arteriosclerosis. If a person’s blood pressure is too high, it can cause arteriosclerosis. This occurs when the arteries harden and blood cannot travel through them easily.
• Peripheral artery disease. If left untreated, arteriosclerosis can turn into peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD occurs when plaque builds up in arteries. This can reduce or even stop blood flow, resulting in tissue death and, potentially, amputation.
Risk factors that can increase the likelihood of low circulation include:
• Physical inactivity.
• High cholesterol.
• High blood pressure.
Smoking can reduce blood flow by affecting a person’s cardiovascular system. It raises the risk of arteriosclerosis and PAD. Caffeine, alcohol, and stress can also constrict blood vessels, causing or worsening circulation problems. Certain sitting positions may also reduce blood flow, according to a 2015 study.
A doctor can diagnose circulation problems and any underlying issues that may be causing them. They may ask about a person’s medical history and perform a physical examination. They may also try cold stimulation to observe the body’s response, or a nailfold capillaroscopy, which can detect diseases associated with secondary Raynaud’s. Doctors may also diagnose PAD by comparing the blood pressure in a person’s arm versus their ankle.
How to improve circulation at home
The best way to improve circulation in the feet is to treat any underlying conditions that may be causing it. If doctors cannot pinpoint a cause, however, a number of self-care strategies may help.
People can try:
• Moving more: A 2020 study found that performing simple leg stretches can help improve vascular function after 12 weeks. The stretching regime made arteries less stiff, which helped them dilate. If sitting for a long period of time, set reminders to get up and move around.
• Massage: Massaging the feet can stimulate circulation.
• Relaxation techniques: Breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and tai chi can help with managing unavoidable stress.
• Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol can constrict blood vessels and exacerbate Raynaud’s. Smoking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
• Wearing compression socks: Compression socks apply pressure to the legs and feet, forcing blood to travel back toward the heart.
• Staying warm: If circulation problems worsen in cold conditions, keep the home at a comfortable temperature and wrap up in layers. Use hand or foot warmers when needed.
• For more information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.apma.org. To see a podiatrist, telephone 325-2996 for an appointment, visit Bahamas Foot Centre on Rosetta Street, or call 394-5824 for an appointment; or visit Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre on Hilltop Medical Centre off 4th Terrace Collins Avenue. In Grand Bahama, call Lucayan Medical Centre at 373-7400 for an appointment.