Symptoms of Poor Circulation

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on September 14, 2023
3 min read

Your heart pumps blood rich with nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. This helps keep you healthy and moving well. But circulation can get worse for a number of reasons, including conditions like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and peripheral artery disease (PAD), or weight gain and age. When your circulation isn’t working the way it should, some parts of your body may not get the nutrients they need.

Possible signs of poor circulation include:


Varicose veins. This happens when veins bulge with blood because valves aren’t working right. The result is spidery lines of purplish-blue on your skin, most often in the legs. Too much sitting or standing can worsen the problem. It’s usually not serious, but symptoms can include pain, leg heaviness, aching, swelling, skin dryness, tightness, itching, irritation, and muscle cramps. Wearing compression stockings can help, but your doctor can recommend other treatment options if you don’t like the way your veins look.

Muscle cramps. Often in the legs, these cramps get worse when you walk because your body can’t supply enough oxygenated blood. You typically feel it in your calf, but maybe also in your thigh or butt. The poor circulation could be because of “claudication,” where your arteries narrow due to buildup of plaque along their walls. Talk to your doctor about the best way to treat this serious condition.


Swelling. Poor circulation can cause blood clots. Blood can build up behind a clot that blocks a vessel, even just partly. It often happens in the lower leg, where it may be a sign of DVT, but also in the arms or belly. Even after the clot is gone, one-third to one-half of people continue to have swelling and sometimes pain because of damage to blood vessels. 

Sores. Without enough blood supply, you can get sores or ulcers on your skin. They tend to take a long time to heal and may get infected. That can be a more serious problem that needs treatment with antibiotics or other treatments.

Edema. This is the buildup of fluid, usually in the arms and legs. A limb might look swollen and feel tight and hard to move. Edema itself isn’t usually a serious problem. Medications called diuretics, or water pills, can help get rid of it, if it doesn’t get better on its own. Work with your doctor to diagnose and manage the underlying cause, like kidney, liver, and lung diseases, which are serious and need treatment.


Numbness and tingling. These are common symptoms of poor circulation, especially in the hands and feet. A disease called Raynaud’s phenomenon causes attacks that limit blood supply. This makes those areas numb until blood starts to return, which makes them tingle.


Cold hands and feet. You might notice that they’re cold to the touch when you compare them to the temperature of the trunk of your body, especially in your fingers and toes. This could be a sign that it’s time to check in with your doctor.


Discolored hands and feet. The skin might look splotchy with different colors. In those with Raynaud’s phenomenon and other conditions, the skin may appear pale, blueish, or even reddish in color.

Erectile dysfunction. Less blood flow can make it more difficult for a man to maintain an erection that’s firm enough to have sex. This is more common in men with diabetes. Poor circulation is a common symptom in people with diabetes.