Economy Class Syndrome

FootSmart Health Facts from The Podiatry Institute
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Your body needs the right amount of blood flow to keep your heart pumping, your legs moving and your brain functioning. Blood
circulation, the movement of blood throughout the body, is clearly crucial to your existence, and poor leg circulation can cause many problems
for individuals.

Causes:
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A common cause of poor leg circulation – restricted blood flow to your legs – is peripheral vascular disease, or PVD. This term refers to disorders involving blood vessels outside, or on the periphery, of the heart. PVD can involve peripheral arteries (blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart) or peripheral veins (blood vessels that carry blood toward the heart).

When PVD involves the arteries, it is known as peripheral artery disease, or PAD. A fatty substance called plaque builds up and hardens on the walls of the peripheral arteries, making it difficult for blood to properly flow through. The plaque takes years to build up, which is why older adults are more at risk.

In addition, the following behaviors or conditions can also contribute to leg circulation problems:

  • Tobacco smoking
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Improper diet
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Certain nerve and thyroid conditions
  • Pregnancy
  • Long periods of sitting in a cramped and immobile position (Economy Class Syndrome)
Symptoms:
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If you have poor leg circulation, symptoms usually develop gradually.

  • In the early stages, you may experience cramping or fatigue in the legs, buttocks or feet during activity. The pain, whether it's leg pain, lower leg pain or foot pain, usually diminishes with rest, but will reoccur.
  • You may complain of a tired, aching feet, or swollen feet/legs.
  • You may also have cramping that occurs in your legs and
    feet when you are sleeping or immobile for extended periods
    of time.
  • In addition, you can incur such symptoms as 'cold feet,' or feet that 'fall asleep.'

Frequent suffering with cold feet and/or cold hands usually signifies that your circulation, or blood flow from your heart, has slowed. This may especially happen at night when you are trying to sleep, during periods of immobility or after eating certain foods.

People who have very poor leg circulation may also develop a blood clot, a sudden blockage in blood that can cause severe leg pain. This blood clot, known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), develops in a deep vein, and can occur when a vein is damaged or if blood flow slows down or stops completely. If you're obese and/or over age 40, you're at particular risk
for DVT.

Relief and Prevention:
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Good circulation ensures that your body can stay healthy, heal well, and properly function during daily activities.

The most important treatment for poor leg circulation is to address the risk factors:

  • Avoid cigarette smoking.
  • Keep your blood pressure under control.
  • Keep your cholesterol levels in the healthy range.
  • Exercise on a regular and frequent basis.
  • Consider special exercise equipment, products and shoe wear that promotes circulation, such as a bed wedge or leg wedge.
  • Keep moving – avoid staying immobile for long periods of time.
  • Keep your feet and extremities warm.
  • Wear graduated compression hosiery and socks that help stimulate circulation.

The Podiatry Institute suggests that you always see your physician if you suspect you have poor leg circulation, as the condition can be serious and an indication of another medical problem. Medications are available to treat leg circulation problems and to help prevent more serious consequences.

Information on foot, leg and lower body health conditions provided by The Podiatry Institute, dedicated to advancing the standard of care in podiatric medicine and its effects on muscoskeletal health.

This information on foot, leg and lower body health conditions is reviewed by the Running Injury Clinic, as well as The Podiatry Institute, dedicated to advancing the standard of care in podiatric medicine and its effects on musculoskeletal health. The Running Injury Clinic and The Podiatry Institute do not endorse a specific treatment, product or therapy. This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. While the products are designed to help relieve symptoms of your ailments, they may not be a cure and will not provide the same results for everyone. Please consult your health care provider on all matters relating to this or any other condition that may affect your health.