How Does Diabetes Cause Poor Circulation?

Diabetes is a condition in which the body’s process for maintaining the proper blood sugar level isn’t working correctly. There are two forms of diabetes: Type 1 and type 2. 

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin, typically beginning at a young age. Type 2 diabetes generally develops and is diagnosed in or after middle age. The type 2 form is most common in people who are sedentary and overweight. 

In both forms of diabetes, there’s too much sugar in the blood and not enough moving into the cells, where it’s used for energy. That state can lead to multiple health problems.

One of the consequences is that diabetes can negatively impact blood flow. What is the connection between diabetes and poor circulation? The disease causes decreased circulation in a few different ways. First, sugar-based material builds up in the walls of small blood vessels, reducing the amount of blood that can flow through them.

In addition to causing poor circulation by narrowing blood vessels, diabetes can produce inflammation in them. This also reduces blood flow. Plus, it greatly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with diabetes

Consequently, proper management of blood glucose levels is essential to preventing decreased circulation from diabetes. That means keeping blood sugar in the acceptable range as much as possible, typically through diet and medication. 

So, if you’re wondering what can cause poor circulation, diabetes can definitely play a role. 

Common Symptoms of Poor Circulation

Poor circulation affects the body in several ways. For example, many patients are aware of the issues with cold hands and feet with diabetes. People with poor circulation may also have symptoms like:

  • Pain in the calves, thighs, and buttocks when walking
  • Hair loss on the feet or legs
  • Chest pain when exercising
  • Brittle toenails
  • High blood pressure
  • Diminishing eyesight
  • Infections in the feet
  • Tingling in the arms or legs
  • Numbness in the arms or legs
  • Stinging or pulsating pain in the limbs
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tissue damage

What Helps with Poor Circulation?

People with diabetes often have issues related to their feet due to poor circulation. How can people with diabetes improve blood flow and circulation? Here are some tips:

  • Quit smoking. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do to improve circulation to your feet, as smoking hardens the arteries, decreasing blood flow.
  • Wear support socks. These special socks, also called compression stockings, apply pressure to the lower legs to help support proper blood flow.
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage blood vessels and adversely affect circulation.
  • Exercise regularly. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and getting frequent exercise provides a wide range of health benefits, from improving overall circulation to helping lower high blood pressure.
  • Manage your blood sugar. Allowing your blood glucose to be outside the normal range can contribute to poor circulation in the feet.
  • Watch your cholesterol. Getting the right amount of good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, and triglycerides is helpful for people with diabetes. Your doctor or dietician can provide guidance.

How to Improve Poor Circulation If You Have Diabetes

Can poor circulation be reversed? Understanding the relationship between diabetes and circulation problems, and preventing circulation symptoms, is crucial for people with diabetes. If you have high blood glucose, frequent blood sugar monitoring will help you know when and how to take action to bring the level down.

You should also get regular blood pressure checks and eye exams. These tests can help your healthcare providers spot circulation problems. In addition, you should pay close attention to your feet and lower legs to spot signs of infection or changes to the skin.

Learn More Diabetes and Circulation Treatment from Baptist Health

Be proactive about your or a loved one’s health and explore the diabetes care services that Baptist Health offers.


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