Are your fingers and toes always cold? Mine too. But, the question here is: Is this normal? I’ve often ignored it, but generally assumed that my blood circulation may not be so great. Cold fingertips, swollen feet after a night in heels and spider veins — are these things just part of being a person in a body as it ages — or are they actually signs of poor circulation?
“Poor circulation is typically a result of years of damage to the arterial blood vessels by cigarettes, poor physical condition, high blood pressure, elevated glucose levels (diabetes) and elevated lipid levels. Heredity plays a role in many of these conditions,” explains Dr. Robert Huizenga — or more commonly known as “Dr. H” on 16 seasons of The Biggest Loser and owner of The Clinic by Dr. H.
He lists some things to watch out for, including “weak or absent pulses, leg pain after a certain distance of walking and tip of extremity pain and redness. Varicosities — enlarged, bubbly veins, usually located in the legs — are readily visible and sometimes associated with aching pain or discomfort.”
Signs of poor circulation
Here are some other signs that may indicate if you suffer from poor circulation. If any of these symptoms are a concern to you, make an appointment with your family doctor for firsthand advice.
Numbness. A feeling of numbness may occur for a few minutes in any of the extremities. Although most people have experienced this, those with poor circulation issues will experience this more often.
Digestive issues. Healthy digestion requires a hardy blood flow to the stomach. If blood is not circulating properly, you may experience poor digestion and constipation.
Weak nails. One of the things that makes nails strong and durable is nutrients delivered by the blood. If you notice your nails have become weak or flaky, you may not be receiving adequate blood flow.
Hair loss. This can be another symptom of low blood flow. Weak hair follicles are a sign that they may not be getting enough nutrients to build a healthy hair strand.
Discoloration. As Dr. H mentioned, discoloration — white or bluish fingers and toes — may yield in response to cold temperatures. This is known as cyanosis.
Swelling. Healthy and Natural World explains, swelling can occur in hands and feet “because the circulatory system tries to reduce the load and the result is leaving some fluid that is called edema.”
Dizzy spells. A lack of blood to the brain can cause you to have random dizzy spells, especially when rising quickly after sitting.
Headaches. Similarly, headaches can occur because of improper blood flow to the brain. If you receive frequent headaches in addition to the other symptoms, call your doctor for an appointment.
Dry skin. Without a supportive blood flow system, your skin cannot maintain hydration. You may notice dry or itchy skin because necessary nutrients are not being delivered.
Is it Raynaud’s disease?
“True arterial circulatory problems (blood flow out from heart),” Dr. H says, “are rare in younger [people], more common in older adults, especially current or past cigarette smokers. Raynaud’s disease — cold-induced spasm of small arteries in the fingers or toes — is the one artery condition that classically can occur in young women.”
Raynaud’s disease is an artery condition — but, fairly common, with up to 3 million cases in the U.S. per year. “Raynaud’s causes fingers and toes to go transiently white, cold and numb in response to cold temperatures, like reaching into the freezer,” Dr. H tells SheKnows. Although this can be a chronic disease, the good news is that it is most often treatable just by dressing warmer.
Is it Venous disease?
Venous disease can include blood clots, ulcers and varicose and spider veins. Dr. H says, “Venous circulatory problems, most notably varicose veins — or their medically benign but cosmetically irritating step-sister, spider veins — are quite common in younger individuals, especially women post-pregnancy. Spider veins have no medical consequences, but are considered an ‘eyesore’ by some patients.”
He notes that venous disease do have strong genetic ties, but “can also be caused by leg injuries and lower extremity surgeries, as well as being exacerbated by pregnancy, excessive standing or inappropriately tight leg wraps or braces.”
Varicose veins and spider veins have different treatments, but can be removed with surgery, injections and/or lasers. If you are concerned, talk with your doctor to see what options are best for you.
To avoid any issues before they start, Dr. H advises, “Get out and be active and/or exercise, strive to eat healthfully and avoid cigarettes like the plague — your blood vessels will thank you. Healthy living leads to healthy arteries and veins!”
A version of this story was published October 2015.
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