Circulation problems in any part of the body tend to come from fatty deposits in the blood vessels called plaque. The deposits can harden, constrict the flow of blood, or break off to form clots and blockages in any area of the body. Although leg circulation problems tend to be more common, arm circulation problems can also be symptoms of heart disease, stroke or other arterial diseases.
Arm Weakness, Numbness
Poor circulation in the arms can be an indicator of the danger of stroke. The National Stroke Association states that weakness or numbness in the arms, especially if that weakness or numbness is located on one side of the body, is a good indicator that blood flow is being blocked by a clot, which may cut off blood flow to the brain.
Peripheral Arterial Disease
Peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, is most often caused by atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. The blood circulation problems from PAD can be centered in the arms. The American College of Cardiology calls it "arm artery disease." Arm muscles may hurt, become weak or numb, or feel cold. The plaque buildup on artery walls may be fatty deposits, calcium and cholesterol. PAD is both serious and common enough to be diagnosed in about 12 million people in the U.S. High blood pressure, diabetes and high blood cholesterol as well as lifestyle habits like smoking put people at risk of PAD.
Intermittent claudication is usually located in the leg arteries, but an arterial blockage in the arm can also cause the severe pain, cramping and tired feeling this term refers to. It is related to PAD with comparable pain in either the leg or arm depending on the location of the blockage. The pain centers in the muscles rather than the joints, according to Merck, and is felt most during physical exercise. Resting usually lessens the pain. The more severe the blockage, the more severe the pain.
Autonomic neuropathy is a condition that people with type 1 diabetes may have which can injure the autonomic nervous system and lower blood circulation in the arms and hands as well as the legs. This nerve damage, along with other types of neuropathy, affect more than 60 percent of type 1 diabetes sufferers, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It is the most common reason for amputations in the U.S. unrelated to accidental injuries.