The legs, particularly the lower leg and foot, are the most prone to circulatory problems due to its distance from the heart and the range of disorders that may arise within the long and extensive network of leg arteries and leg veins. This can therefore affect the flow of blood from the heart to the legs via the arteries or from the legs to the heart via the veins.
When the blood flow is hampered, it is essentially slowed down and may not reach the leg at a rate that is sufficient to maintain the oxygen and nutrient supply to the tissues of the lower leg or feet. This is seen in poor leg circulation problems affecting the arteries – arterial insufficiency. If the flow back to heart is disrupted, due to problems in the vein(s), the blood will pool in the legs and the circulation becomes sluggish. This is seen in venous insufficiency as a result of varicose veins, superficial thrombophlebitis or deep vein thrombosis.
Leg Artery Problems
Arteries carry oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the legs from the heart. When the flow of blood to the legs is compromised, the tissues of the legs become starved for oxygen and nutrients (refer to diagram below). The common problems in the arteries that can affect the blood flow include :
- Gradual narrowing of the artery by the development of an atherosclerotic plaque (atherosclerosis)
- Sudden blockage of the artery by an embolus which tends to lodge at the branches/bifurcations
Broadly this is known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD). For more information refer to :
Leg Vein Problems
Veins carry deoxygenated (oxygen deficient) blood and waste products back to the liver, heart and lungs. If the blood flow to the trunk is impeded then the circulation in the legs becomes sluggish (refer to the diagram below). This may occur due to :
- Valve incompetence (varicose veins) which affects the superficial leg veins.
- Clots (thrombus) which blocks either the superficial legs veins (superficial thrombophlebitis) or the deeper leg veins (deep vein thrombosis).
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on November 29, 2010