What is Poor Circulation and What Can I do About it?

Getting cold hands and feet is a common occurrence for most of us in the chilly conditions

of winter, but for some, having cold extremities is a constant battle. It is no surprise that

your hands feel frozen when you forget to wear gloves, but what if they feel cold no matter

your efforts to keep warm? The phrase ‘cold hands, warm heart’ may come to mind, and

whilst you may indeed have a lovely and warm personality, there is a more scientific


Credit: Ricky Romero

Poor circulation is when there is an insufficient amount of blood reaching certain areas of

the body, most commonly affecting the legs and arms. The ideal temperature of the human

body is 37 degrees, and as well as transporting oxygen and nutrients around the body, the

circulatory system has an important role in maintaining this temperature. When receptors in

the skin detect cold temperatures outside of the body, blood flow to the skin and

peripheries is reduced in order to conserve core body heat. The way our bodies work can

differ slightly from person to person; some people just feel the cold more than others and

this way of conserving core body heat may be more intense.

So, your hands and feet feeling cold may just be a natural temperature regulating

mechanism and nothing more to worry about. However, if you notice your hands and feet

are persistently cold despite wrapping up warm, or cold throughout the year, it may be the

result of poor circulation. Poor circulation can result from multiple conditions, such as

peripheral artery disease (PAD) or diabetes. PAD involves the build-up of plaque in the

arteries, restricting the amount of blood that can flow through them. Bad lifestyle habits

such as diets high in cholesterol, smoking and lack of exercise are the main culprits for bad

circulation, but what if you have lead a very healthy lifestyle? In that case, it may be down

to Raynaud’s disease.

Raynaud’s is a condition in which blood flow to the extremities is significantly reduced in

response to the cold and even emotional stress. It mostly affects the fingers and toes, but

the nose, ears and even nipples can also be affected! This condition was first discovered by

French doctor Maurice Raynaud in the 19th century and is common, affecting up to a fifth of

the worldwide population. Blood flow is reduced due to vasospasm (sudden constriction) of

the small blood vessels, temporarily limiting the amount of blood that can reach and

provide heat to the areas affected. Symptoms other than feeling cold include numbness,

pins and needles and colour changes of the skin, and this can last for up to several hours.

The skin turns very white when blood flow is initially reduced, and pink when blood flow

returns. This condition can be triggered by simply washing your hands with cold water, and

whilst it may be unpleasant and a nuisance, it is not usually harmful!

Fortunately there are some simple things you can try to improve circulation. Vasodilatory

substances can be found naturally and help to widen blood vessels and improve blood flow,

therefore boosting circulation. An example is red wine, so you need not feel guilty for having

the odd glass, it’s for your health! Omega-3 fatty acids, found mostly in fish, help to improve

blood flow as well as improving joint health. If you’re not a fan of fish don’t worry, as fish oil

supplements will do the trick.

Smoking can be detrimental to circulation and contribute to peripheral artery disease, so

giving up may relieve symptoms of poor circulation as well as improving many other aspects

of your health, but that is a whole other story!

Exercise is a great circulation booster, and it doesn’t have to be strenuous. Even a short walk

increases the flow of blood around the body, so regular exercise could lead to a significant

improvement. Finally, wrapping up warm with good quality gloves and footwear will help to

minimise heat loss when out in the cold! If symptoms fail to improve, a vasodilatory drug

called nifedipine may be necessary to relax blood vessels and increase blood flow to the


Having cold extremities may just be the way a person’s body works to regulate body

temperature, or it could be a condition such as Raynaud’s. Either way, with winter around

the corner, it may be time to invest in some warm gloves, socks and possibly some of that

red wine!

#Circulation #Health #EmmaWorthington #EmmaWorthington

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