Circulatory Problems in the Legs
Many of the leg blood circulation problems are common in both men and women. However, in certain conditions, such as during pregnancy, menopause, or as a result of hormone treatment, some of these problems may worsen or the risks increase substantially. For example, hormonal changes during pregnancy and increased blood volume may cause the veins to dilate and become less elastic. In addition, the pressure on the pelvic blood vessels by the baby’s head and the enlarged uterus may compress the veins and produce varicose veins and various blood circulation problems in the legs.
The common symptoms of poor leg circulation are tingling, numbness, pain and leg cramps. If not treated in time, it can lead to serious complications such as gangrene which may even necessitate amputation of the affected leg in extreme cases. Pulmonary embolism is another dreaded complication which is potentially life-threatening. Lifestyle changes and management of the underlying condition may help. Other specific treatments will depend upon the type of circulation problem.
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- High blood cholesterol.
- Heart disease.
- Prolonged immobilization.
- Standing for long periods.
- Abnormalities in the blood vessels.
- Injury to blood vessels.
- Kidney disease.
- Hormone treatment.
- Certain medication, such as beta blockers.
Types of Blood Circulation Problems in the Leg
Peripheral Vascular Disease
Peripheral vascular disease, also referred to as peripheral arterial disease, may affect women particularly if there is a history of diabetes, hypertension, high blood cholesterol, or heart disease. Smoking also increases the risk. Peripheral arterial disease is a blood circulation problem that commonly affects the legs. Due to hardening of the arteries or arteriosclerosis, the arteries lose their elasticity and also become narrower, thus causing less blood flow to the supplying area. Extreme cold, emotional stress, abnormalities in the blood vessels and injuries to the blood vessels can also lead to blood circulation problems in the legs.
PAD usually results in symptoms such as tingling, numbness, aches and pains, or discomfort in the legs, particularly of the calf muscles. This occurs while walking or during exercise and is usually relieved on rest. The affected leg may look pale and be cold to the touch. As it progresses, PAD may lead to leg pain and cramps at night or non-healing ulcers in the leg. There is a greater chance of a blood clot forming in these affected leg arteries – arterial thrombosis. Sometimes a blood clot forms even when the artery is not blocked more often due to a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation.
Varicose veins are dilated veins on the surface of the legs. Varicose veins are usually caused by a condition known as venous insufficiency where the valves in the veins (which normally act as one-way valves allowing blood to flow back to the heart) become incompetent, and blood flows back into the legs. This can cause edema or swelling of the legs and varicose veins. Varicose veins are more common in women than in men. The risk of developing varicose veins increases during pregnancy.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
A single blood clot or multiple blood clots in the leg veins can lead to a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This usually occurs due to prolonged immobilization as in long journeys by car or airplane, or after surgery. Women may be especially at risk if they are on birth control pills, are pregnant, or have recently given birth. Postmenopausal women, particularly those on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), are at increased risk.
Pain and edema are the most important symptoms of DVT. The affected leg will be warm to the touch. DVT results in restriction of blood flow from the leg veins to the heart. The most feared complications of DVT is pulmonary embolism which may occur if a clot breaks away into the blood stream and blocks a blood vessel in the lungs.