Many people suffer from poor circulation – and some don’t even know it.

Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing health editor of, recently spoke to Dr. Frank Veith, professor of surgery at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, about poor circulation and what causes it.

Veith said the main reason a person would have poor circulation is from arthrosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which causes blockages.

“There are a lot of risk factors,” Veith said. “Smoking is a big one, and that you can do something about. Diabetes is another one, which you may or may not be able to do something about. And genetics is a big one – but you can’t pick your parents.”

The disease progresses through your life, Veith said, so age can be a factor, but not necessarily a big one.

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Veith said cholesterol is “absolutely” correlated to poor circulation.

“The drugs that lower cholesterol – statins – they stop the progress of arterial sclerosis, and make it less malignant,” he added.

Other factors that weigh in: obesity and diet. Veith noted it’s important to make sure you are followed by a good internist, make sure your cholesterol is well-managed, your diabetes and blood pressure are under control, you don’t smoke and your weight is maintained by some form of exercise.

Symptoms of poor circulation include intermittent claudication, which is pain in the muscles of your lower extremities that occurs during exercise, and is relieved with rest. You’ll especially feel this pain as you walk, Veith said, but it’s important to have a proper vascular surgeon check this out as there could be many reasons for pain in your lower extremities that are completely unrelated.

A serious symptom is when the limb has turned gangrenous (look for discoloration of the limb), if there’s a malignant ulcer or true ischemic pain, which is caused by decreased blood flow to the limb. Any changes in appearance or pain at rest should prompt a patient to get to the doctor.

Doctors can often diagnose poor circulation just by looking at the limb and feeling for a pulse or change in temperature, but sometimes invasive tests are necessary.

Often, poor circulation issues can be treated with statin drugs, diet and lifestyle changes, Veith added. But when a limb is threatened, surgical intervention is the best option.