Poor circulation occurs when your body’s ability to distribute blood, oxygen, and nutrients is disrupted. When this happens, your cells don’t get as much oxygen as they need, which negatively affects their ability to function. Although poor circulation isn’t a primary symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic condition that involves the central nervous system (CNS), circulation issues can affect individuals with MS.
“I have bad circulation in my legs and feet, and when I don’t wear my compression socks, I get small white spots on my legs,” one MyMSTeam member said. “Anyone know if these two things are related?” Another said, “My hands and feet are always cold. Could it be an MS symptom or poor circulation?”
The following information can help you learn more about the effects of poor blood circulation, the potential links between that condition and multiple sclerosis, and how to manage symptoms.
Common symptoms of poor circulation include tingling and numbness, feeling cold, cramping of muscles, and swelling. Tingling and numbness, the most common symptom, usually occurs in your extremities, like your fingers and toes, because they are not getting enough blood.
You may be at a higher risk of poor circulation if you are older than 40, a smoker, or overweight. However, poor circulation can affect people without those risk factors, and it can also be linked to other issues, such as having diabetes or varicose veins.
Members of MyMSTeam report experiencing symptoms of poor blood circulation, leading some to wonder if this condition could be linked to MS. “Does anyone know if MS exacerbations could be initiated by poor circulation?” one member asked.
Research on the relationship between MS and the body’s circulatory system indicates a complex relationship between constricted blood vessels and MS. One review of eight studies found that people with MS are more likely than the general population to have chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, which causes abnormalities in how the blood drains from the spinal cord and brain. However, other studies that aimed to confirm this finding had mixed results.
Additionally, other parts of the autoimmune response associated with MS can have effects on your cardiovascular system. For example, you could develop thrombosis (blood clots blocking veins or arteries) as a result of cytotoxic T cells, which are part of the immune system. During an immune response, these T cells may start the blood-clotting process — even if it isn’t actually beneficial for your body at that time.
MS affects your spinal cord and brain, which make up the CNS, so it can be scary to know that another system in your body may be affected by the condition.
“I’ve been referred to get a circulation test for my right foot because my toenails keep falling off for no reason,” one MyMSTeam member wrote. “It’s the foot that’s got nerve damage because of the MS.”
The best way to make sure you are doing everything you can to avoid complications of poor blood circulation is to communicate your concerns directly and openly with your health care providers. If they know the full context of your habits and daily life, they will have a better understanding of the factors that may contribute to your condition and can design realistic, effective paths forward.
Your doctor may prescribe medications such as antiplatelet drugs or blood thinners, which prevent your body from forming large blood clots.
There are many ways to combat any dysfunction in your circulatory system, and your doctor is the best person to walk you through your options.
If you’re on a quest to improve your blood circulation, it’s important to talk with your neurologist to determine the best approach for you. If your health care team agrees, you may be able to take steps at home to help boost circulation.
Some ways to improve your circulation include getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking, controlling your stress levels, and wearing compression gloves or socks.
“I have just started to wear compression socks to help with blood circulation in my right leg,” one MyMSTeam member wrote. Another said, “Diet, exercise, and stress reduction are key for me.”
On MyMSTeam, the social network for people with multiple sclerosis, more than 186,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.
Do you experience tingling, coldness, or other symptoms of poor circulation? Have you taken steps to improve your blood circulation? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyMSTeam.