Do you occasionally get memory lapses? Do you feel a tightness in your chest after climbing stairs? Maybe you’ve noticed that the paper cut on your finger took a ridiculously long time to heal. All of these can be signs of poor circulation or the lack of blood flow in extremities, like hands, feet, and the brain.
It’s no secret that healthy blood circulation is critical for supplying oxygen and nutrients to the brain and the rest of the body, while simultaneously carrying toxins and waste to the liver and kidneys be removed. That’s why you should consult a doctor right away should you notice any of these 10 signs of poor circulation, which can lead to heart attack, stroke, or even death.
1. Chest pain
The chest pain that occurs when your heart muscle isn’t supplied with enough oxygen-rich blood is called angina. Angina is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease (CHD). Angina may develop when your heart works harder, such as when you exercise or climb stairs. It may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. Some people describe it as feeling like a heavy weight has been placed on their chest. In some cases, it may even feel like indigestion, making it hard to distinguish from other symptoms. If you have unexplained chest pain, seek medical attention right away.
2. Dry skin
If you’re already trying to keep yourself sufficiently hydrated by drinking plenty of water, yet your skin remains dry, flaky, and even painful, it may indicate that you have poor circulation. In fact, our skin is one of the first places to manifest signs of poor blood flow. Skin can appear decolorized due to poor oxygen supply, and can even get ulcers that look like very dry patches on the skin.
3. Leg cramps
Most leg cramps are unlikely to be anything serious. But under certain conditions, a leg cramp may be a sign of peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a blood vessel blockage that causes pain with exertion. PAD may be the first sign of undiagnosed heart disease, and is often treated as synonymous with heart disease because it may be reducing blood flow to the heart and brain, as well as the legs.
The risk factors for PAD usually include: smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Of these, smoking has the most impact but is also the most reversible in terms of symptoms.
4. Bad memory
Poor blood flow can impair many of your brain’s functions including memory, balance, and speech. This has to do with both the inadequate delivery of oxygen to the brain and poor removal of toxins and waste from the brain. After all, your brain depends on constant, intensive maintenance to keep it functioning properly.
In a 2017 study, researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee examined more than 300 participants in their 70s with low cardiac index (the blood flow pumped from the heart). They concluded that a low cardiac index was tied to reduced cerebral blood flow. This was especially true for the temporal lobes, the part of brain responsible for in memory.
5. Shortness of breath
Sudden shortness of breath can be a sign of pulmonary embolism (PE), which occurs when a blood clot forms in the body’s deep veins, travels to the lungs, and gets lodged in the lungs’ blood vessels. It’s more likely that you have PE if the symptom is accompanied by a cough and fatigue, or if you find yourself gasping after climbing two or three stairs or getting tired sooner than normal. Some other symptoms may include irregular heart rhythm, congestive heart failure, and other types of heart disease.
6. Swelling in the Legs
The accumulation of fluid in the legs or arms can be caused by a number of conditions, the most concerning of which is the heart failing to pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs. When this happens, blood backs up in the veins, causing fluid to accumulate in the body’s tissues. Swelling of the legs, especially if it is persistent, should never be ignored. It can be a warning sign of heart failure, which is life-threatening.
7. Cold hands and feet
If you have poor circulation, blood will have a harder time traveling to the distal extremities, such as fingers and toes. Blood also carries heat from your core to your extremities, and any compromise in speed or quantity of blood flow will cause these parts of the body to feel colder than other parts. You can check this yourself by comparing the temperature of your fingers and toes to the arms and legs or the rest of the body. If circulation is healthy, the temperature should be the same in both the distal extremities and the body.