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How can you tell if you have poor circulation in your legs?

Poor circulation in the legs is a common condition that can cause a variety of symptoms. Detecting poor circulation early is important, as it can lead to more serious complications if left untreated. There are several telltale signs that indicate poor leg circulation.

What causes poor circulation in the legs?

There are a few common causes of poor circulation in the legs:

  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD) – Plaque buildup in the arteries of the legs, which restricts blood flow.
  • Diabetes – High blood sugar damages blood vessels over time.
  • Obesity – Excess weight puts pressure on blood vessels.
  • Smoking – Constricts blood vessels and increases clotting.
  • Inactivity – Lack of movement allows blood to pool in the legs.
  • Medications – Some drugs like beta-blockers can impair circulation.
  • Deep vein thrombosis – Blood clots in the legs obstruct blood flow.
  • Varicose veins – Abnormally enlarged veins that pool blood.

Risk factors like old age, family history, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure also make poor circulation more likely.

Symptoms of poor leg circulation

Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of poor leg circulation:

Changes in skin color

  • Pale, bluish, or cold skin
  • Reddish blue color in the lower legs or feet
  • Dark purplish skin discoloration

Poor blood flow causes the skin to take on an abnormal color in the lower extremities.

Leg pain (claudication)

  • Cramping, aching, tireness, or heaviness in the legs
  • Pain or discomfort that comes and goes
  • Typically occurs in the calf muscles
  • Brought on by activity and relieved by rest

This classic PAD symptom is caused by insufficient blood supply to the muscles during activity.

Numbness or weakness

  • Tingling, burning, or prickly sensations
  • Loss of feeling in the legs or feet
  • Weakness or heaviness in the muscles

Nerve damage from poor circulation can cause strange sensations and affect muscle strength.

Non-healing wounds

  • Ulcers or sores on the legs or feet
  • Injuries take a very long time to heal
  • May appear on the toes, heels, ankles, or legs

Poor circulation impairs the delivery of nutrients and oxygen needed for proper wound healing.

Shiny, tight skin

  • Skin on the lower legs looks shiny and taut
  • Loss of leg hair
  • Dry, flaky skin

Cold skin, lack of moisture, and nutrient deficiency contributes to unusual skin changes.

Erectile dysfunction

  • Difficulty obtaining or maintaining an erection
  • May occur along with other circulation-related symptoms

The blood vessel damage that causes PAD can impair blood flow to the penis.

Diagnosing poor leg circulation

If you have symptoms of poor circulation, these are some tests your doctor may use to diagnose PAD or related blood flow problems:

Ankle-brachial index

  • Compares blood pressure in the ankle to blood pressure in the arm
  • Can detect narrowed leg arteries
  • Simple, noninvasive test

Doppler ultrasound

  • Uses sound waves to visualize blood flow
  • Helps find blockages in leg arteries
  • Painless test done with gel and a handheld probe


  • Uses dye and x-rays to view artery blockages
  • Can help determine treatment options
  • Minimally invasive, performed under local anesthesia

Blood tests

  • Check for diabetes, cholesterol problems, or clotting disorders
  • Can help pinpoint the cause of circulation issues
  • Require a simple blood sample

Improving circulation in the legs

If poor leg circulation is caught early, lifestyle changes and medical treatment may help prevent complications like leg ulcers, gangrene, or amputation. Here are some ways to improve circulation problems:

Exercise regularly

  • Daily physical activity boosts blood flow
  • Low impact exercise like walking avoids injury
  • Consult your doctor before starting an exercise program

Maintain a healthy weight

  • Excess weight strains circulation
  • Losing just 5-10% of body weight can help symptoms
  • Focus on whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and lean protein

Quit smoking

  • Smoking damages blood vessels
  • Kicks the nicotine habit to improve blood flow
  • Consider nicotine replacement therapy or prescription medications

Control conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure

  • Careful management of these diseases prevents circulation damage
  • Work closely with your healthcare provider
  • Monitor blood sugar and BP at home if needed

Elevate legs when resting

  • Raising legs above the heart improves blood return
  • Reduce swelling and promote healing
  • Use pillows to prop legs up comfortably

Compression stockings

  • Graduated stockings promote blood flow in the legs
  • Best when worn daily from morning until night
  • Prescription-grade stockings provide optimal benefits

Medications and procedures

  • Drugs like aspirin, statins, or blood thinners can treat PAD
  • Angioplasty can widen narrowed arteries
  • Vascular bypass surgery reroutes blood around blockages

When to see a doctor

Seek medical care if you notice any signs of poor circulation, such as:

  • Changes in skin color or temperature
  • Tingling, numbness, or pain in the legs and feet
  • Sores or wounds on the lower legs or feet
  • Sexual dysfunction along with other PAD symptoms

Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications from reduced blood flow. See your doctor promptly if you experience leg pain that affects your daily activities or quality of life.


Poor circulation in the legs has many causes, ranging fromPAD to inactivity. Typical symptoms include aching legs, skin changes, non-healing wounds, and numbness or tingling. Tests like the ankle-brachial index can confirm if circulation is impaired. While serious, poor leg circulation is treatable. Lifestyle measures like exercise, weight control, smoking cessation, and compression stockings can help. Medications, surgery, or other procedures may also improve blood flow. Check with a doctor if circulatory problems make daily life difficult. Swift diagnosis and care provides the best chance to restore circulation and prevent complications.