Take a Look at Your Feet and See What They Say About Your Health
It’s not very commonly known, but our feet are amazing diagnostic tools that we can use in order to find clues that potentially point to various health problems. You don’t need to be a doctor to understand what your own feet say about your health. It’s important to know which warning signs to look out for when it comes to your feet.
Here at Bright Side, we made a list of telltale signs or symptoms in your feet you that might be alarming indicators for your overall health.
1. Hairless feet
The majority of people have a few hairs on their feet, especially on their toes regardless of their gender. However, if you notice that your feet are becoming smoother and you realize that you don’t have any hair in that area anymore, that could be a sign of serious circulation problems.
It is usually caused by a cardiovascular disease, like arteriosclerosis which causes your arteries to harden, making it difficult for your heart to pump blood effectively all around your body. When something like this happens, your heart goes into recovery mode where it prioritizes the distribution of the blood to more vital organs leaving extremities like your feet with reduced blood supply.
2. Koilonychia or sunken toenails
Koilonychia is a nail disease in which the nails become abnormally thin and lose their convexity, becoming flat or even concave in shape, looking like a spoon. This condition starts to appear in the middle of the nail as it drops down and the edges are raised to give a rounded appearance.
This condition is associated with iron deficiency, otherwise known as anemia which is the most common blood disorder in the world. When an iron deficiency is left untreated it can cause a series of additional health problems such as fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath and chest pain, dizziness, headaches and the list goes on.
Click here for iron deficiency symptoms to check for.
3. Long-term sores
If you have a sore that appears on your foot, takes a long time to heal or is there permanently and looks like an open wound or eczema, then that could be a sign of diabetes. These types of wounds are called diabetic ulcers. Over time, high blood glucose levels and high levels of fats such as triglycerides can damage your nerves. This will make it hard for your body to heal wounds, especially on your feet.
Diabetes influences foot ulcers in different ways, and it is important for people with diabetes to understand the potentially severe consequences of leaving foot sores and ulcers untreated. Unfortunately, for some people who suffer from diabetes, the end result of a foot ulcer can be amputation. However, less serious foot ulcers can still take a long time to heal and be very painful and uncomfortable.
- Get immediate medical care for an open sore or wound.
- Work with a medical professional to better control your diabetes.
4. Cold feet
Even though cold feet are a very common occurrence amongst everyone, if you get abnormally cold feet for no particular reason, this could be a sign of thyroid dysfunction. Low thyroid activity can be associated with excessive homocysteine — an amino acid that is associated with heart disease, poor blood circulation, and very stiff vasculature.
This is because the essential nutrients carried in the blood vessels do not reach the extremities as frequently. Lack of blood circulation to the extremities like your hands and feet can also show up as chronic fungal infections.
5. Yellow toenails
Thicker than normal, yellow toenails is the handiwork of a fungal infection. Bad hygiene is one of the leading causes of fungal infections in your toenails. These infections are typically caused by personal habits such as wearing shoes made of non-breathable materials that cause sweat to mix with bacteria.
Wearing sweaty socks for long periods of time or going barefoot in questionable public places can also lead to fungal infections. If you believe you have an infection, talk to your doctor about treatment options, including over-the-counter products that may benefit you.
Neuropathy is one of the long-term complications of diabetes and it affects the nerves. Our nerves are responsible for communicating messages between our brain and body, which activates our senses and makes it possible for us to touch, feel, see, hear and move. Therefore, if these nerves get damaged they can cause problems in several parts of the body.
Neuropathy is a result of high blood glucose levels that damage the blood vessels which supply the nerves. This then prevents nutrients from reaching the blood vessels which results in the disappearance of the nerve fiber.
Sensory neuropathy damages the nerves that carry “messages” of touch, pain, temperature and other sensations from the skin to the brain. It mainly affects the nerves located in the legs and feet, but in some cases, it can affect the arms and hands as well.
If you have lost the ability to feel pain in your feet, you experience tingling/numbness or the ability to feel temperature, check in with your doctor to see what you can do to improve your diabetes treatment.
7. Sore foot joints
Sore foot joints, otherwise known as rheumatoid arthritis, is a condition where your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body tissue. It usually affects the lining of the joints, causing painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
The inflammation that is associated with rheumatoid arthritis is what can damage other parts of the body as well, even though the inflammation of this condition can be controlled with modern medications, severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis can still cause different physical disabilities.
If you believe you are experiencing something like this, you will definitely want to get your joints checked out as soon as possible.
8. Flaky feet
Athlete’s foot is an inflammatory skin disease that affects the sole of the foot and the skin in-between the toes. It usually appears red, flaky and scaly and may be covered in smaller blisters. Despite the name given to it, it can affect both athletes and non-athletes alike.
It is usually caused by a contagious fungal infection called “tinea pedis” that people can get from walking barefoot in public places such as, gyms, public swimming pools, communal showers and nail salons.
Athlete’s foot can be cured very easily using anti-fungal creams, however, if you also suffer from diabetes or a weak immune system, it’s better to see your doctor.
9. Digital clubbing
Clubbing of the toes refers to certain physical changes to your fingernails which are a result of an underlying medical condition. These changes could consist of an increased roundness of the nails, downward curving of the nails, softening of the nail bed or enlargement of the tips of your fingers or toes accompanied with some redness.
It is not completely understood why clubbing occurs, however, certain diseases activate its components in the bloodstream. This can be triggered by several conditions that are related to the lungs and the respiratory system such as lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis, bronchiectasis or asbestosis. Digital clubbing may also be a symptom of various other diseases and disorders like different types of cancer, heart defects, an overactive thyroid, inflammation in the intestine, and liver disease.
You should make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any signs of clubbing either on your fingernails or toenails. The underlying conditions that cause clubbing are serious, and early diagnosis can lead to a more effective treatment.
10. Toes that change colors
Toes that change in color is a prime feature of Raynaud’s Disease. Raynaud’s Disease is a condition that causes the extremities of your body such as your fingers and toes to change color and feel numb and cold in response to temperature or stress. This happens because smaller arteries that distribute blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to the affected areas.
During an attack when suffering from this disease, the affected areas of your skin usually turn white. After that, they might turn blue and feel cold and numb. As the person warms up and the circulation improves, then the affected area turns red with some swelling and itching.
You should see your doctor immediately if you have a history of Raynaud’s Disease in your family and you notice a sore or an infection in either your fingers or toes.
11. Red and painful soles
If you notice the soles of your feet becoming more red, painful and sometimes even numb, then that could be a sign of deep vein thrombosis. This is a serious condition that occurs when a piece of a blood clot breaks off into the bloodstream and blocks one of the blood vessels in the lungs. It can cause pain and swelling in the leg and may lead to complications like a pulmonary embolism which can be life-threatening if left untreated.
Deep vein thrombosis usually happens in people that are over 50 years old, but a family history of the disease and certain lifestyle choices can trigger it sooner. For example, smokers, overweight people, people who’ve had injuries and bone fractures, birth control users — or even those who remain seated for long periods of time — can suffer from the condition.
Strangely enough, symptoms only occur in about half of the people who have this condition according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Common symptoms include:
- Swelling in your foot, sole, or the ankle of legs
- Cramping pain in the affected area
- Warmer skin in infected areas
- Skin on the affected area turns red or blue in color
If you believe you are suffering from deep vein thrombosis, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible. It can develop into a more serious condition as mentioned earlier (pulmonary embolism) which can prevent you from breathing.
12. Feet that become deformed
If you notice that you are getting sudden and severe pains on the sides of your toes and you also see that your toes begin to deform slowly over time, this could be a sign of gout. When you have gout, you have higher than normal levels of uric acid in your body, which builds up around the joints and forms uric crystals.
One of the most common triggers of gout is dehydration. When your body is dehydrated it increases the amount of uric acid it produces which then results in hyperuricemia. In healthy individuals, uric acid flows through the liver, into the bloodstream, where it is excreted in urine, or passed through the intestine to regulate levels. When you are dehydrated the kidneys do not function properly and uric acid is not removed from the blood through excretion, and it starts to build up around the joints, especially in feet.
If this is left untreated it can cause permanent damage to your joints. So if you believe you are suffering from gout, it is important to book an appointment with your doctor right away to prevent further problems from developing.
Have you been diagnosed with any of these health conditions or noticed any of these symptoms on your feet without knowing what they meant? Have you seen a doctor yet? What was your experience? Please let us know in the comments below.
Illustrated by Daniil Shubin for BrightSide.me