Poor Circulation In The Legs: What It Means For You

Soreness and muscle cramps are routine problems that most people experience at one time or another. In the lower extremities, pain may strike the calves, feet or hamstrings. Most likely, this type of pain is due to over exertion, new activities or even dehydration. In some cases, however, discomfort in the legs and feet may be due to poor circulation. Find out how to tell if you may be experiencing a circulatory problem and how to treat this condition so you can become pain free.

What Causes Poor Circulation?

In order for the muscles in your legs to stay strong and perform everyday activities, you must have a steady flow of blood running throughout the body. It is the job of your heart to pump blood from your chest out to each extremity so every organ and muscle can function optimally. When blood flow is affected by certain conditions, the lower extremities are often compromised. This can result in pain during activity, which is known as claudication.

Circulatory problems occur when various arteries are blocked and unable to facilitate blood flow to the limbs. Atherosclerosis is often to blame for damaged arteries. This condition is caused by plaque or fat deposits, which build up on the walls of the arteries. High blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and nicotine are common causes. If this happens to you, your arteries can become hard and narrow, reducing the amounts of oxygenated blood that reach your lower extremities. When your extremities are affected, it is known as peripheral arterial disease.

People who suffer from claudication due to peripheral arterial disease usually experience pain while active. The pain should resolve within two to three minutes of ceasing the activity. Unfortunately, claudication can lead to complications over time. As the problem grows worse, ulcers and blood clots may occur; the leg or foot may feel cold; the skin and nails may atrophy; and you may observe hair loss. Some patients will start feeling pain when they are at rest. It is important to treat circulatory problems as early as possible to avoid complications and restore mobility.

Treating Claudication

The first thing I tell patients who experience the symptoms of peripheral arterial disease is that they have the power to dramatically improve their condition. Making lifestyle changes is not always easy, but the ability to be active without pain is the reward for addressing the problem. Before it is necessary to turn to surgical options, give natural solutions a chance.

The greatest risk factor for peripheral arterial disease and claudication is smoking. You should quit as soon as possible and eliminate any exposure to secondhand smoke. The nicotine in cigarettes damages the walls of the arteries, causing low blood flow and poor circulation. Your doctor can discuss a variety of smoking cessation programs with you to find the one that will best fits your needs.

Knowing your cholesterol levels and taking steps to put them in a healthy range can prevent and reduce symptoms of peripheral arterial disease. If high cholesterol is to blame for blocked arteries, your doctor will help you implement a healthy, lowfat diet. Vegetables and whole grains can help lower cholesterol levels.

Oatmeal, for example, is proven to reduce your numbers when eaten daily. If high cholesterol runs in your family, your doctor may prescribe medication to help lower your levels.

Exercise is a free and natural solution for poor circulation. Although activity leads to the pain of claudication, exercise is essential for improving your symptoms. Keeping the muscles active and strong helps them use oxygen more efficiently. Even if circulation is poor, pain may be reduced as the muscles learn to work better. Exercise also encourages the growth of new blood vessels, which provide another way for oxygen to reach your muscles. Work with your doctor to develop an exercise program you can handle and that will eventually reduce your pain.

Atherosclerosis and peripheral arterial disease often go undetected until symptoms present themselves. If claudication occurs, consider it a call to action to adopt a healthier lifestyle. With simple, natural changes, you can help your doctor treat the problem and enjoy life with a healthy, able body.

Photo Credit: graur razvan ionut


Mark Rosenberg, M.D.

Dr. Mark Rosenberg, MD is a Phlebologist in Boca Raton, FL. He is affiliated with Boca Raton Regional Hospital.

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