Poor circulation to the feet, known medically as peripheral vascular disease or PVD, is caused by blocked arteries and veins that supply blood to the extremities. According to the Texas Heart Institute, the blood vessels most distant from the heart, called the peripheral vessels, can become blocked due to the build-up of plaque caused by atherosclerosis. Blocked peripheral vessels lead to a condition called ischemia, a lack of oxygen, to the muscles. The result of this issue is pain and cramping.
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Diagnosis of Poor Circulation
Physicians take a detailed history and physical exam to determine a patient's overall health status. The American Heart Association reports certain tests, such as an ultrasound, x-ray angiography and magnetic resonance imaging angiography, can evaluate the health of the blood vessels. The ultrasound uses sound waves to make a picture of blood flowing through the vessels, and angiography uses dye injected into the vessels to track blood flow.
Symptoms of Poor Circulation
Poor circulation in the feet can affect one or both sides of the body and typically leads to the development of specific symptoms. Painful cramping in the calves or thighs, called intermittent claudication, is an indication of poor circulation. The pain and cramping dissipate with rest. Other symptoms include weakness or numbness of the foot with red or shiny skin. Slow-healing sores can also develop on the feet, and hair and toenail growth can slow. Consult your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
The American Diabetes Association reports that having diabetes puts you at a higher risk than normal for developing poor circulation in your feet. Other risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight and having a family history of poor circulation or heart disease. If left untreated or poorly managed, poor circulation in the feet can lead to the development of gangrene and the loss of toes or part of the foot.
Lifestyle Changes and Treatment Options
Smoking and having diabetes are the two greatest risk factors for developing poor circulation in the feet, so quitting smoking and managing your diabetes can help prevent advancement of poor circulation. The American Heart Association states that having a regular exercise program, controlling blood pressure and lowering cholesterol levels are lifestyle changes that can prevent the advancement of poor circulation. If necessary, medications, such as aspirin and cilostazol, can also help you regulate this issue.
Daily Foot Care Regimen
Poor circulation makes the feet more prone to injury and developing infection. Yale Medical Library recommends having a daily foot regimen to avoid problems. Those with poor circulation should keep their feet clean, by bathing them daily with lukewarm water and mild soap. Check your feet daily for corns, callouses and open sores and trim your toenails regularly. Your shoes and socks should fit comfortably. In the event of any infection, consult with your doctor.