Poor circulation - effects, treatment & related conditions
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Having poor circulation can lead to a range of health problems
The circulatory system is vital for transporting blood around the body, providing oxygen and nutrients while removing waste products like carbon dioxide. This Health Hub provides all the information you need about circulation. Within this hub, circulation expert Helen Cosgrove covers topics such as memory loss, tinnitus, Raynaud's syndrome and varicose veins. Information and advice are provided throughout by Helen, who also answers your questions in our Q&A service.
What is the circulatory system for?
The body's circulatory system is a complex network of blood vessels which transport blood from the heart to all parts of the body, and back again to the heart. In doing so, the circulatory system supplies oxygen and nutrients to all body cells, as well as removing any waste products or toxins from the body. The flow of blood helps to heal any wounds or injuries in the body. It also regulates the temperature and pH level in the body.
The circulatory system is made up of 3 types of blood vessels:
- Arteries which carry blood away from the heart
- Veins which carry blood towards the heart
- Capillaries, the smallest blood vessels connect arteries to veins and feed our cells with oxygen
Arterial and venous circulation
Arterial circulation involves the arteries which carry blood away from the heart, while venous circulation consists of the veins which move blood towards the heart.
Arteries are strong and elastic vessels which contract with every heartbeat. This helps to keep your blood pressure at the correct level by expanding and contracting to adjust to the rate of blood flow.
Veins, such as the pulmonary veins or the vena cava, return blood to your heart. They have thinner walls than arteries and expand as the amount of blood flowing through them increases.
Effects of poor arterial circulation
Poor arterial circulation can be the result of arteries narrowing or becoming blocked. In Western society, the most common cause of this is a build-up of cholesterol inside the walls of the arteries, causing a restriction of blood flow movement. This may lead to:
- Tinnitus – this is a condition where sounds such as ringing, whooshing or buzzing are heard in the ears. If tinnitus is the result of poor arterial circulation, it is likely that you will be suffering from pulsatile tinnitus, a type of tinnitus where the sounds are rhythmic and often coincide with your heartbeat
- Raynaud’s syndrome – this is a condition where there is interruption to the blood supply to your hands and feet. Areas of your body affected turn white or blue as blood supply reduces
- Poor memory – it is normal for people to become a bit more forgetful as we get older. Whilst we might jest that we see the early signs of dementia, slight lapses in our short-term memory is something that is a natural part of ageing
- Strokes – this medical emergency occurs when blood supply to the brain is temporarily cut off. It is a serious medical condition which requires immediate medical attention, as the sooner it is treated, the greater the chance of recovery
- Heart problems – this is a very vague term covering a wide range of diseases which can affect the heart, ranging from angina to heart attacks. Each will have its own specific treatment. Poor arterial circulation is often an indication that your heart is not as healthy as it should be, and so it is worth visiting your doctor.
Effects of poor venous circulation
If you have poor venous circulation, your veins will struggle to return blood from your lower body, especially the legs, back up to your heart. This means that blood will collect in your veins and this is likely to lead to varicose veins.
Although varicose veins in themselves are often not a serious condition, they are an indication that all is not well with your circulation, and if you are concerned you should speak to your doctor.
Tips for improving circulation
There are several measures you can employ to help improve your circulation. Most of these are basic lifestyle tips which can have a surprisingly positive impact on your circulation and your general wellbeing:
- Exercise – if you have a reluctant circulation, then give it a helping hand. Exercise is the best way to get the blood flowing efficiently around the body, reaching even the ends of your fingers and toes. Exercise does not need to be vigorous – regular, moderate exercise can do wonders for your circulation
- Massage – if you suffer from localised areas of poor circulation, a massage may help to stimulate blood flow to that particular area. As well as this, massages can aid tissue healing
- Put your feet up - raising your legs above the level of your heart is effective in reducing your chances of developing varicose veins. Additionally, taking time to do this forces you to stop and take time to relax, which is vital for your general health and wellbeing
- Eat the right foods – what you eat has a direct impact on your health and circulation. Certain foods such as oranges, spicy food, garlic and fish are excellent for aiding your circulation. Other foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat will have the opposite effect, and so if you are having circulation problems then it is advisable to cut down on them or avoid them as much as possible
- Keep hydrated - along with what you eat, you should also be aware of what you drink. Make sure that you are taking in enough fluid. Warm fluids are thought to be better for your circulation as anything too cold will close up your veins
- Smoking – If you smoke then you should try to cut down or cut out cigarettes altogether. Smoking causes narrowing of the arteries, making it more difficult for them to supply blood to tissues in the body.