A Comprehensive Look at the Link Between Poor Circulation and PAD
Your body’s circulation system has a big job. It is responsible for circulating blood, oxygen and nutrients all throughout your body. If blood flow to a specific part of your body is restricted or reduced, you may experience the symptoms of poor circulation. Most commonly, poor circulation is felt in the extremities, such as arms and legs.
At Lam Vascular & Associates, we see many individuals who are dealing with the effects of poor circulation. It’s important to know that poor circulation isn’t a condition in itself. Instead, it results from other health issues, like Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), among others. For this reason, it’s important to treat the underlying causes of poor circulation rather than just the symptoms.
Here are the most frequently asked questions about poor circulation and poor circulation as it relates to PAD:
What causes poor circulation?
There are various conditions and diseases that can cause poor circulation. When caught early, most of these conditions can be treated. This is why you should not ignore the symptoms of poor circulation (see next question!).
The most common conditions linked to poor circulation include obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, varicose veins and arterial issues. Also, poor circulation can be a sneaky symptom of PAD.
What are the symptoms of poor circulation?
The most common symptoms of poor circulation include:
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities, sometimes described as “pins and needles”.
- Cold hands and feet. Reduced blood flow can lead to temperature fluctuations in the skin and nerve endings of the hands and feet.
- Swelling in the lower extremities. Poor circulation can cause fluid to accumulate in certain areas of the body. This condition is called edema, and it often occurs in the legs, ankles and feet.
- Joint pain and muscle cramping. Poor circulation in the legs and arms can also cause these areas to ache. Leg (calf) cramping is often worse when sitting or standing for long periods.
- Fatigue. Poor blood flow affects energy levels and can cause fatigue.
- Varicose veins. Varicose veins occur when the valves in the veins don’t work properly, so blood doesn’t flow effectively. They make it more difficult for blood to return to the heart.
- Ulcers. Poor circulation affects your body’s ability to heal, which can lead to ulcers (sores that resist healing) on the legs and feet.
How is poor circulation related to PAD?
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a common condition that develops when the arteries that supply blood to the internal organs and the arms and legs become completely or partially blocked as a result of atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is when plaque (fatty deposits and cholesterol) builds up in blood vessels, especially in the arteries. This buildup eventually narrows and hardens the arteries, restricting blood flow. The resulting PAD can lead to poor circulation.
PAD primarily affects the legs but can also damage arteries in the kidneys, abdomen, feet, ankles, pelvis, hips, buttocks and arms. PAD is most common in adults over age 50, and is often associated with diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure – but it can also occur in younger people. People who smoke or are obese are at a higher risk of developing PAD early in life.
Since PAD often has no symptoms in its earliest stages, it’s important to be aware of the risk factors associated with the condition. Knowing what puts you at risk can better prepare you for managing your condition(s). The risk for PAD increases with age, and diabetes is one of the most common risk factors, especially in people over 50 years old.
What are the symptoms of PAD?
Not everyone has symptoms in the early stages of PAD; this is known as Asymptomatic PAD. However, for patients who do have symptoms, called Symptomatic PAD, the most common symptoms are:
- Pain, cramping and discomfort in the legs, calves, thighs or buttocks
- Pain that occurs when walking, climbing stairs or exercising, but usually goes away during rest
- Legs feel cold or numb, tired, weak, achy or heavy
- Skin discoloration (skin may turn red, blue, purple or even white)
- Sores or wounds on feet that won’t heal
How is poor circulation diagnosed?
Since poor circulation can be a symptom of many different conditions, diagnosis is important. Talk to your doctor about any known family history of poor circulation and any related diseases. This can help your doctor better assess your risk factors, as well as determine which diagnostic tests are most appropriate. Testing can include:
- Blood sugar testing for diabetes
- Ultrasound or CT imaging to examine blood vessels for clots
- An ankle-brachial pressure index to check for PAD
How is PAD diagnosed?
At Lam Vascular & Associates, if we suspect PAD, we will initially check the pulse in your feet and perform a non-invasive test called ankle-brachial pressure index (ABI). ABI is used to compare the blood pressure in your arms with the blood pressure in your ankles. Based on test results, you may undergo an ultrasound to evaluate blood flow.
If further tests are required, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT angiography may help identify the extent of narrowing in your blood vessels due to atherosclerosis.
How is poor circulation treated?
Treatment for poor circulation will depend on the underlying cause, but the following lifestyle changes can help with poor circulation:
- Quit smoking
- Lose weight
- Eat a healthy diet
- Wear compression stockings
If your poor circulation is determined to be related to PAD, we have several advanced treatment options that, in combination with the lifestyle measures mentioned above, can help you manage your condition.
How is PAD treated?
Many of the above-mentioned lifestyle changes can stop PAD in its tracks, especially in its earlier stages. And while lifestyle changes and medication are the two most common treatments for PAD, when those are not enough, your doctor may recommend intervention. Fortunately, today’s technology has allowed these interventions to be minimally invasive in most cases, and therefore, they often do not require a hospital stay or extensive downtime.
If lifestyle changes are not enough and your PAD is negatively affecting your life, Dr. Lam may recommend revascularization as a treatment option. Lam Vascular & Associates offers laser atherectomy and balloon angioplasty and stent placement procedures that are minimally invasive and safely performed in our outpatient endovascular center (or, angio suite) using state-of-the-art technology. This allows for a faster recovery and no overnight stay in most cases.
Thankfully, amputations and invasive surgeries are far less common for PAD treatment due to the development of these endovascular procedures. Dr. Lam specializes in them, and has performed over 10,000 to date.
Is there anything I can do to prevent poor circulation?
The best way to improve circulation is to address any underlying conditions that are causing it. Aside from that, there are some things you can do at home to help:
- Move more. A 2020 study found that performing simple leg stretches can help improve vascular function in as little as 12 weeks.
- Get a massage. Massage can stimulate circulation and is a great stress reducer, too!
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. These can constrict blood vessels.
- Wear compression stockings. These apply pressure to the legs and feet, forcing blood to flow back to the heart.
The Limb Salvage Center at Lam Vascular & Associates
At Lam Vascular & Associates, we love to educate people about PAD. Why? It’s just that important. But even more important than knowing what PAD is? Knowing you have PAD and seeking treatment early. It could save your limb and your life.
We are taking PAD care to the next level with our dedicated state-of-the-art Limb Salvage Center in Dallas. Here, we perform many endovascular or minimally invasive procedures for a variety of vascular conditions. For patients battling challenging conditions like PAD, one convenient location for all their ongoing care is a valuable resource.
A Second Opinion Could Mean a Second Chance at Life
At Lam Vascular & Associates, we see many people who have been living with unaddressed poor circulation and undiagnosed PAD for so long, they’ve been told amputation is their only option. Thankfully, that’s rarely the case. Our amazing team of vascular specialists is a regional leader in second opinion evaluations that have saved thousands of limbs of people who thought amputation was inevitable.
Your Next Step Matters. If you believe you or someone you love is experiencing the effects of PAD, you owe it to yourself to find out for sure. Schedule an appointment with our vascular experts today.