Updated: Jun 4, 2019
When you think of heart health and circulation you most likely think of your heart, arteries, and veins. And while these are definitely important, you’d be leaving out one of the largest portions of your circulatory system - microvessels. In fact, microvessels make up over 74% of your blood vessels.
FUN FACT: If you were to place all the microvessels in your body end-to-end, they would extend more than 74,000 miles. That’s over ⅓ of the way around the world.
Why are we talking about microvessels?
We see patients all the time who are dealing with poor circulation. And while looking at the heart, arteries, and veins is a good start, it’s often not enough to help them regain their quality of life.
Think of your circulatory system as a series of highways and roads. The heart acts as a traffic light, the arteries and veins are your major highways, and the microvessels are the side streets. Without a doubt the highways get the most attention because they help the vast majority of people get to and from their respective destinations. Same goes for the arteries and veins; they help transport the bulk of oxygen, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and waste around your body. However, what if the side streets are closed or experiencing congestion? How are you going to get off the highway to get to the grocery store, to your house, or any other location? The same issue goes for microvessels. If they become constricted or blocked, portions of the body are no longer able to receive the oxygen and nutrients they need. And likewise, the body is unable to transport carbon dioxide and waste away from affected areas of the body. When this happens, the body starts to show a variety of symptoms.
Symptoms to look for:
There are a wide range of symptoms that can indicate whether you or a loved one are experiencing poor circulation. These symptoms not only can affect your quality of life but may even cause severe complications. Common symptoms include:
numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
cold hands and feet
swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs
memory loss and difficulty concentrating
joint and muscle cramping
skin color changes
ulcers in the legs or feet
1. Numbness and tingling in extremities:
One of the most common symptoms of poor circulation is numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. When something is restricting the flow of blood, and blood cannot reach the extremities in sufficient quantities, a person may also have a sensation of pins and needles.
2. Cold hands and feet
Reduced blood flow causes the hands and feet to feel much colder than the rest of the body. When blood cannot flow at healthy rates, this can lead to temperature fluctuations in the skin and nerve endings of the hands and feet.
3. Swelling in the lower extremities
Poor circulation can cause fluid to accumulate in certain areas of the body. This is called edema, and it often occurs in the legs, ankles, and feet. Edema may also be a sign of heart failure. It can occur when the heart is unable to circulate an adequate supply of blood throughout the body. Edema in the lower extremities can also develop when blood collects in those areas. Pressure builds, forcing fluid from the blood vessels into surrounding tissues.
Symptoms of edema include:
heaviness and swelling
tight, warm skin
pain in affected areas
Some people notice that they have edema because clothing or jewelry starts to feel tight.
If a person with edema presses on the affected area, they may notice an indentation in the swollen skin.
4. Cognitive dysfunction
Poor blood circulation can affect the functioning of the brain, leading to memory loss and difficulty concentrating.
These and other cognitive problems can result from:
a reduction in the flow of blood to the brain
a reduction in the amount of blood pumped throughout the body
certain changes in blood pressure
5. Digestive problems
Digestion relies upon blood flow, and poor circulation may be linked to fatty matter that can collect in the lining of blood vessels in the abdomen. Digestive problems related to reduced blood flow include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stools, constipation, and cramping.
Poor blood flow affects energy levels and can cause fatigue. Also, the heart must pump harder when circulation is poor, which can lead to further fatigue.
7. Joint pain and muscle cramping
Poor circulation can cause pain in the legs, feet, arms, and hands. Cold hands and feet may ache or throb, especially as they start to warm and blood flow returns. Poor circulation in the legs and arms can also cause these areas to ache, including the calf muscles. This type of pain in the legs is often worse when sitting or standing for long periods.
Also, when the blood does not circulate correctly, oxygen and nutrients cannot reach tissues effectively, which can result in stiffness and cramping.
8. Skin color changes