In medicine, circulation refers to the movement of fluid through the body. The circulatory system (which is made up of the heart and blood vessels) serves to produce blood circulation and keeps blood moving to where it is needed in your body4. Poor circulation/ vascular problems can be caused by vasculitis, smoking, and diabetes (among other things), and can worsen neuropathy symptoms.
There are many problems that can arise from having poor blood circulation. Without enough blood, swelling and pain can occur, as well as a feeling of pins and needles1. Your nerves need fluids and oxygen to function properly, so the lack of proper circulation can impede their function and make neuropathy symptoms worse1. Keeping tabs on your circulation to see whether it is healthy or not and making corrections when problems occur can help you prevent these symptoms.
Circulation and Neuropathy
One of the causes of neuropathy is vascular issues, meaning that circulation of blood to the arms and legs is decreased or slowed2. This decreased circulation deprives your nerves of the necessary oxygen, nutrition, and fluids they need to function properly. In turn, this leads to nerve damage and eventually nerve cell death. Both of those things worsen neuropathy symptoms.
Healthy Circulation and How to Check It
Healthy circulation indications include no swelling, warm temperature, and no numbness or tingling in any parts of your body3. Since some common neuropathy symptoms feel like poor circulation (particularly numbness and tingling), it is hard to tell offhand whether your circulation is healthy or not. That said, there are other signs that you can look out for to see if your circulation is unhealthy. If you notice any of these signs or if you fail to see your symptoms improve over time, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about possible next steps.
Signs of Poor Circulation to look out for3:
- Fingernails or toenails are pale or bluish in colour instead of pink.
- Fingers and toes are cool or cold to the touch instead of warm.
- If you squeeze the tip of your finger or toe (or if you push on the nail) the area will look white or lighter and then return to the normal colour. If it takes longer than 3 seconds for colour to return, that is not normal.
- Feet appears purple in colour
- If you experience decreased mobility in fingers and toes that is otherwise unexplained (i.e., you have not previously been diagnosed with a condition like arthritis), that is not normal.
- Severe pain that prevents movement is not normal.
What to do if Circulation is Not Normal
If you notice your circulation is not normal, make a note of it. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor may decide to run blood tests to detect inflammatory conditions or order ultrasounds or CT scans to examine the blood vessels and check for clots that could be impeding your blood circulation1. They may also suggest other forms of treatment depending on the severity of the circulation problem.
- Barhum, L. (2020, January 17). What to know about poor circulation. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322371#diagnosis-and-treatment
- Cleveland Clinic. (2019, December 16). Neuropathy (Peripheral Neuropathy). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14737-neuropathy
- Nationwide Children’s. (n.d.). Circulation Checks. NationwideChildrens.Org. Retrieved July 7, 2021, from https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/family-resources-education/health-wellness-and-safety-resources/helping-hands/circulation-checks
- Rxlist. (2021, March 29). Medical Definition of Circulation. https://www.rxlist.com/circulation/definition.htm
Natalie was a Student Writer for the Calgary Neuropathy Association and has now completed her degree and is in the working world.