If you’re feeling chilly regardless of the weather, or you can’t feel your fingers and toes after a short walk outside, or it may be due to your circulation.

Today we learn more about poor circulation from Mr Phillip Davey, Consultant Vascular Surgeon at Spire Washington Hospital.

What exactly *is* our circulation system?

Circulation is super-important – it’s the natural flow of life-supporting blood throughout the body. Circulation delivers oxygen and juicy nutrients to all the cells in the body and is responsible for keeping your heart pumping, your body moving and your brain working properly. Mr Davey says that poor circulation is essentially problems with narrowing or blocked arteries, and the symptoms of poor circulation will be felt when the flow to a specific part of the body is reduced. "These symptoms can uncover problems elsewhere – such as in the heart. Poor circulation is usually an indicator of other issues throughout the body,” says Mr Davey.

So what are the symptoms of bad circulation?

The most common symptoms of poor circulation can initially appear in the extremities – usually the legs, feet and sometimes the hands. These can tingle, throb or feel numb, have a white or blue appearance or swell – which is called edema.

"On one end of the spectrum – the milder end – can be pain when walking when the muscles are demanding more blood flow. On the severe end of the scale is suffering with pain even when resting. Occasionally circulation problems can get worse until there is pain at night and it’s uncomfortable to sleep in a bed. A very extreme scenario is when the circulation in the body is so bad that it’s not keeping the skin and tissue alive in the extremities and ulcers will develop, causing the limb to be at risk," says Mr Davey.

Other symptoms of poor circulation can include digestion problems, hair loss, weak nails, dry skin, fatigue, and headaches and dizzy spells due to an improper blood flow to the brain.

The different medical conditions that lead to bad circulation can also cause symptoms that are unique to each condition.

What are the most common causes of bad circulation?

There are several conditions can lead to poor circulation. The most common medical causes that can affect a healthy flow around the body include being overweight, diabetes, a heart condition, an eating disorder, blood clots, varicose veins and peripheral artery disease (PAD) – a serious circulatory condition that causes narrowing of the blood vessels and arteries.

Often poor circulation can be improved changing unhealthy behaviours and habits, however it’s important to checked out by your GP, to rule out or treat any serious medical condition that could be causing bad circulation.

Can a change of lifestyle fix bad circulation?

Sure thing. An overhaul of an unhealthy lifestyle and the introduction of some better health and wellbeing habits is always going to be a good idea – and can dramatically improve circulation in the body.

First off, smoking causes damage to blood vessels and arteries so quitting is absolutely the best thing you can do for your circulation system. Mr Davey agrees, saying that, "stopping smoking helps to slow down the process of hardened and narrow arteries, called Atherosclerosis. When you stop smoking over time your body will also compensate for the fact that your circulation isn’t as good as it was and you’ll develop new blood channels which is called a collateral circulation. Regular exercise also helps as a stimulus for the collateral circulation."

Eating a heart-healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and limited saturated fats can help and don’t skip your workouts – regular exercise will improve circulation as it increases the blood flow, gets the heart pumping around the body and helps flush blood through the arteries. In addition to working out, make sure you don’t sit or stand in one place for long periods of time (such as eight hours at your desk, without budging) – it’s all about keeping the body moving the help that blood flow.

"Your GP may also prescribe you medication is he/she believes you’re suffering from clinical circulation problems," says Mr Davey.