Learn more about ways to improve your circulation.

If you have frequent muscle cramps, tingling in your feet, or cold hands, you may have circulation problems. When your blood flow gets reduced, it affects different parts of your body, most often hands and feet.

The good news is your doctor can prescribe treatment for poor circulation in hands and feet. They can also treat the underlying conditions that cause poor circulation.

What Is Poor Circulation?

Poor circulation is a sign of another problem in your body. It happens when your blood doesn’t flow through your body the way it should. It results from health problems like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

Your circulatory system includes the heart, veins, arteries, and other blood vessels. This vast, complex network of blood vessels brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells in your body. Then, they carry away waste from the cells.

But sometimes the blood can’t get through the blood vessels because they are narrow or blocked. When that happens, you have poor circulation.

You’re more likely to have circulation problems if you:

  • Are an older adult.
  • Are obese or overweight.
  • Have diabetes.
  • Have heart disease.
  • Lead a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Smoke.

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Should I See a Doctor for Poor Circulation?

You should see a doctor if you notice any signs of poor circulation. These symptoms may mean you have heart disease, diabetes, or another condition. These symptoms include:

  • Cold hands and feet.
  • Muscle cramps, especially ones that occur regularly.
  • Pain in the area with poor circulation.
  • Shortness of breath, fatigue, or chest pain.
  • Skin that looks unusually pale, red, or purple.
  • Swelling, especially in the arms and legs.
  • Tingling or numbness in your feet or legs.
  • Varicose veins in your legs.

Diagnosing Poor Circulation

If you have signs of poor circulation, you should see your primary care doctor. Depending on your symptoms, they may refer you to a cardiologist or other specialist.

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. They may also order:

  • An angiogram. This is a minimally invasive test that takes X-rays of the inside of your blood vessels. It uses a special contrast dye that goes into your body through a blood vessel in your groin or arm.
  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI). This test compares the blood pressure in your arms to the blood pressure in your legs. It can help pinpoint poor blood flow in the legs.
  • A blood test. A blood test can give an overall picture of your health. It can show signs of diabetes, high cholesterol, and other conditions that can lead to poor circulation.
  • A stress test. You’ll walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. A doctor or assistant will monitor your heart, lungs, and blood pressure to see how your heart is working.
  • Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to create images of your heart, blood vessels, and blood flow. Your doctor may be able to find blockages in the arteries and veins.

Note: If shortness of breath or chest pain come on suddenly, you should seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms could be serious signs of heart problems.

How to Improve Blood Circulation

There are several different ways to improve circulation. You may be able to boost your circulation by making some simple lifestyle changes. If those aren’t enough, your doctor may suggest medications or even a surgical procedure.

Lifestyle changes

Your diet and exercise habits have a major impact on the health of your circulatory system. Your doctor may suggest that you:

  • Don’t sit still too long. You should get up and walk around every hour or two after sitting for long periods of time to prevent blood clots. That could be at your desk at work, on the sofa watching TV, or on a long airplane flight.
  • Eat a healthier diet. A heart-healthy way of eating means plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Skip fatty cuts of meat, fried foods, and sugary drinks.
  • Elevate your feet. Putting your feet above the level of your heart several times a day may help your circulation. Gravity helps blood and fluid drain from clogged blood vessels in your legs.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. You don’t need to train for a marathon to improve circulation. Find an activity you enjoy — walking, biking, swimming laps — and exercise at a moderate pace.
  • Learn to manage your stress. It’s easier said than done, but reducing stress can help lower your blood pressure and help with poor circulation. Your doctor can provide resources and tips on how to start managing your stress levels.
  • Lose weight. Being overweight puts more pressure on your veins and arteries. Talk to your doctor about a plan to lose weight safely, for long-term results.
  • Quit smoking. If you smoke, quitting will improve the health of your blood vessels. Your doctor can help you find the best resources to help you quit smoking.
  • Wear compression stockings. Compression socks are snug garments that put gentle pressure on the veins and arteries in your lower legs. You wear them during the day and take them off at night.


Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough. You may need medicine to improve your circulation. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Blood pressure medications— help relax blood vessels so the blood can move through them.
  • Blood thinners — prevent blood clots.
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs — help prevent plaque buildup in blood vessels. Plaque can narrow the veins and arteries and make it hard for blood to flow through.


There are some situations where you need surgery to open blocked or narrow blood vessels. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Angioplasty — doctors insert a small balloon into the narrowed blood vessel. They gently expand it to push plaque out of the way.
  • Arterial bypass surgery — this surgery redirects blood around blocked blood vessels.
  • Stent — this is a tiny mesh device, shaped like a tube. After angioplasty, doctors may place it inside a blood vessel to prop it open.
  • Varicose vein removal — doctors remove the affected vein. The blood will then start to flow through nearby healthy veins.

U.S. News and World Report, The Most Common Signs of Poor Circulation and How to Improve Them, Link

National Library of Medicine, Vascular Diseases, Link

Diabetes.co.uk, Poor Blood Circulation, Link

American Diabetes Association, Diabetes Foot Complications, Link

CDC, Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), Link

NHS, How long should I wear compression stockings to improve my circulation? Link

Harvard Health, Icy fingers and toes: Poor circulation or Raynaud's phenomenon? Link

About UPMC

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