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What Would Happen If Our Circulatory System Stops Working?

Medically reviewed by Lauren Labrador, MD, FPCP, DPCC · Cardiology

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 01, 2022

What Would Happen If Our Circulatory System Stops Working?

The first time we heard about the circulatory system was probably in grade school. Our teacher explained that it consists of the heart and blood vessels and is generally responsible for bringing blood throughout the body. As blood cells reach the organs, they deliver life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients and pick up waste materials to be excreted. What happens when the circulatory system stops working? 

How Far-Reaching Is The Circulatory System?

When we say blood circulates throughout the body, it means exactly that. With a healthy heart and functioning blood vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries), the circulatory system reaches all the organs. 

But, what happens when something goes wrong with either our heart or blood vessels? What happens if the circulatory system stops working?

Circulatory System Failure: When The Circulation Collapses

What happens when the circulatory system fails? The answer depends on how it “collapses.” 

First, circulatory failure can be cardiovascular in origin. It points to heart failure, a progressive disease starting with an index event that damages the muscle and cells of the heart. This results in the heart’s loss of function or the inability to contract properly. Heart failure can be acute or chronic. 

Circulatory failure can also be peripheral vascular in origin, happening in specific body parts. For instance, prolonged lack of circulation in the leg can lead to tissue death (gangrene) because the area doesn’t receive adequate oxygen. 

The bottom line is our blood circulation can fail in a particular area or as a whole, such as when we experience issues that disable the heart from pumping blood effectively. 

Problems In The Circulatory System

But, of course, problems in the circulatory system are not confined to failure or collapse. As the system consists of the heart and blood vessels, any problem with them can be considered a circulatory problem. Here are some circulatory system diseases to take note of:

Aneurysm: This happens when there’s a weak spot in the artery that can balloon or expand. Over time, the risk of the weak spot “bursting” increases. An aneurysm can occur in different parts of the body, such as the chest, belly, and brain. One example of aneurysm is abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Atherosclerosis: This condition occurs when the arteries develop plaque (fatty buildup). As a result, the arteries become narrower and it becomes more difficult for the blood to flow.  Coronary artery disease may result from atherosclerosis as a complication⁸.

Blood Pressure Problems: Blood pressure is basically how forcefully the blood flows through the vessels. Having hypertension or hypotension is also a circulatory system problem. 

Cardiomyopathy: Cardiomyopathy happens when the muscle of the heart has difficulty pumping blood throughout the body. This may occur due to several reasons, such as a weak or thickened muscle, or because of a bigger chamber. 

Heart Valve Diseases: Valves of the heart ensure that the blood flows in one direction. Having a valve problem can mean the blood may regurgitate or flow backward or that the valve doesn’t allow enough blood to pass through. An example of heart valve disease is mitral valve regurgitation where the mitral valve in the left chamber doesn’t close completely, allowing blood to flow backward. 

Vasculitis: Just like how other parts of the body can get inflamed, the blood vessels can suffer from inflammation, too. Vasculitis can happen due to an overactive immune system, and it can make the vessels narrower or weaker, or lead to an aneurysm.  Many people with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, an autoimmune condition, may develop vasculitis, too⁹.

Stroke: Stroke, which can happen due to bleeding and blood clots in the brain, is also a circulatory system disease. 

Do You Have Poor Circulation?⁷

Some cardiovascular diseases manifest as symptoms of poor circulation, such as:

  • Muscles that hurt or feel weak
  • Pins and needles 
  • Paleness
  • Cyanosis or bluish discoloration of the nails, lips, and skin. 
  • Bulging veins
  • Numbness 
  • Cold fingers and toes 
  • Of course, let’s not forget the common symptoms of cardiovascular disease, like:

    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Getting easily fatigued 
    • Severe headache
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Abdominal pain 

    If you have these symptoms, please get in touch with your doctor right away. If you have chest pain, please go to the hospital as soon as possible to rule out emergency conditions, such as heart attack

    Key Takeaways

    The circulatory system or cardiovascular system is responsible for the delivery of blood (and therefore, oxygen and nutrients) throughout the body. It also collects waste to be excreted. As it consists of the heart and blood vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries), a problem with any of them can be considered a circulatory system problem.

    Learn more about Heart Health here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Lauren Labrador, MD, FPCP, DPCC


    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 01, 2022

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