The circulatory system is also known as the cardiovascular system and is comprised of the heart, arteries, blood, and veins. Our circulatory system plays a critical role in our daily lives because it’s responsible for transporting oxygen, nutrients, and hormones throughout our body to our organs, tissues, and muscles. It also works to remove waste products and toxins from our blood.1 Good circulation is necessary for maintaining optimum heart health as well as overall quality health.
But what if you’re not sure if you have good circulation or not? Data indicates that declining levels of estrogen experienced during menopause, may adversely impact the function of our circulatory system.2 If you’re currently in menopause, and the onset of poor circulation symptoms has you concerned, we encourage you to keep reading.
In this article, we’ll explain the potential connection between menopause and poor circulation, as well as talk about some of the more common symptoms of poor circulation that may be experienced during menopause. We’ll also provide information about lifestyle changes you can make that may help to improve your circulation and overall health during menopause and beyond.
How Does Estrogen Affect Circulation During Menopause?
Estrogen is a hormone that affects many bodily systems. This hormone is known to be “cardio-protective,” which means part of estrogen’s role in the body is to protect our heart. During menopause, when estrogen levels are fluctuating and eventually drop, we lose some of this protection, putting us at a greater risk for cardiovascular issues, which can include poor circulation.
As mentioned, menopause is earmarked by a significant drop in estrogen and other hormones in the body. In our circulatory system, declining estrogen levels can cause a myriad of effects, including: 3
- Increased stiffness in the arteries
- Increased plaque build-up in blood vessels
- Increased likelihood of blood clots
- Increased blood lipid levels (fats in the blood)
- Higher fibrinogen levels (a protein produced in the liver that contributes to blood clotting, in addition to increasing heart disease risk, and blood vessel dysfunction4)
A 2020 study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology analyzed data collected from clinical study participants during the SWAN (Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation) Heart Ancillary Study. Researchers found that stiffening in the arteries increased significantly within the year following a woman’s final menstrual period; which is around the same time a woman would be in menopause/postmenopause.
An increase in “arterial stiffness” refers to changes in our blood vessel walls that slow down blood flow; ultimately our blood vessels become less elastic and more constricting. The reduction in blood vessel wall elasticity caused by this arterial stiffness also slows down circulation and increases blood pressure.5 Increased arterial stiffness also allows plaque to build up within blood vessels and arteries, which can lead to things like cardiovascular disease and stroke.
The exact causes for these changes in the circulatory system requires additional research, however, scientists have hypothesized that inflammation and changes in how fat is deposited in our bodies, both of which are influenced by hormonal fluctuations during menopause, might be the cause.6
What Are the Symptoms of Poor Circulation During Menopause?
Poor circulation is defined as inadequate blood flow to certain areas of the body, such as the hands and feet.7
Symptoms of poor circulation during menopause are similar to those of standard circulatory issues. Poor circulation symptoms can include:8
- Cold hands and feet
- Bulging or varicose veins
- Muscle pain or weakness
- Numbness or feelings of “pins and needles” on skin
- Paleness or blue-toned skin color
- Chest pain
- Edema (fluid buildup and swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs)
How Can You Improve Poor Circulation During Menopause?
Changes in the circulatory system are a natural part of aging for all people. Even so, you can lessen their impact and reduce the symptoms of poor circulation during menopause, by incorporating certain lifestyle changes.
Positive changes that can improve poor circulation symptoms include:
- Stop smoking – chemicals in cigarettes can damage blood vessels and impede circulation9
- Lose weight if you are obese – excess weight puts you at risk for conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. These conditions all slow down blood flow, and negatively impact circulation10
- Eat heart-healthy foods, such as salmon, fruits, and vegetables, that are low in saturated fat and high in antioxidants11
- Increase your exercise and physical activity levels to include150 minutes of cardio per week12
- Reduce stress with activities such as socializing, yoga, relaxing, and meditation 13
It’s also a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about symptoms that negatively affect day-to-day activities or worry you. Chest pain should never be ignored and should always be brought to your provider’s attention.
Your healthcare provider can also recommend certain medical treatments that may help improve circulation and address underlying conditions. They include:14
- Wearing compression socks for swollen blood vessels and painful legs
- Considering vein removal surgery for varicose veins
- Physical therapy exercises or yoga poses that stimulate blood circulation
- Medication for conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure
- A smoking cessation program
Menopause and hormone-related changes are a part of life, but it’s important to remember that you don’t have to “just deal” with poor circulation or its symptoms. Talk to your healthcare provider about a treatment plan that’s right for you.