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How to Spot the Symptoms of Poor Circulation

By Darlene Zagata ; Updated July 27, 2017

Poor circulation occurs when blood flow becomes restricted in certain parts of the body. It is commonly caused by a build up of plaque in the arteries. Poor circulation develops over time and may be an indication of a more serious underlying condition. Lifestyle factors such as diet and smoking contribute to the development of poor circulation. It is important to recognize the symptoms and consult a health care provider to prevent complications.

Numbness, Cramping and Coldness

Notice whether there is any coldness or numbness in the extremities. One of the first symptoms of poor circulation is a feeling of numbness that may occur in the hands or feet. You may experience the "pins and needles" sensation that is similar to the feeling of your leg or arm "falling asleep." There may also be cramping and/or coldness of the hands or feet.


Swelling of the legs is one of the most noticeable symptoms of poor circulation. Press your finger firmly against your lower leg above the ankle. The skin will bounce back quickly if there is no swelling present. If your finger leaves an indentation in the skin, swelling is present. This condition is known as edema. Edema occurs when there is fluid in the body's tissues. According to the Cleveland Clinic, edema can be caused by several conditions such as congestive heart failure, lung or kidney disease or venous insufficiency, a condition in which the valves in the veins of the legs weaken. Edema can also be caused by other factors such as pregnancy, sitting or standing for long periods of time, too much salt in the diet and certain medications.

Headaches and Dizziness

Assess how often you have headaches or experience dizziness. Notice if you have been forgetful. According to HealthGuidance, 20 percent of the blood circulating in our bodies goes to the brain. The brain does not function optimally when blood flow is restricted. Insufficient blood flow to the brain might result in memory loss and diminished mental clarity. Frequent headaches and sudden dizziness can indicate a poor circulation of blood to the brain.

Slow Wound Healing

Notice if you have any wounds such as a cut, and how long it has taken to heal. Wounds heal slower in people with poor circulation. Proper blood flow is necessary to aid the healing process and when that flow decreases, healing takes longer. An open wound increases the risk of infection. People with poor circulation and diabetes may develop an open sore on the foot, known as a foot ulcer. According to, foot ulcers are more common in people with circulatory problems.

Lack of Sex Drive

Determine whether your sexual libido has decreased. Poor circulation can also affect a person's sex drive and ability to perform. Normal blood flow is necessary for healthy sexual performance. Poor circulation problems that are serious could result in impotence. Fatigue and lack of energy due to poor circulation can lead to a loss of libido.

Other Symptoms

Notice differences in your body and overall health. There are many symptoms that may manifest, since the circulatory system affects the whole body. Varicose veins, hair loss and dry skin are other symptoms that may develop over time due to decreased blood flow. Poor circulation that affects the heart may result in fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and increased blood pressure. Swelling can occur when poor circulation affects the kidneys. Poor blood flow to the liver can produce symptoms such as weight loss and lackluster skin. If left untreated, poor circulation can lead to serious complications, such as heart attack or stroke.

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