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What your feet say about your health

Published:Wednesday | July 13, 2022 | 12:07 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer

Your feet can tell you a lot about your general health condition or warn you of underlying health conditions. From pesky foot pain to more serious symptoms, such as numbness, your feet often show symptoms of disease before any other part of your body.

Hair on toes is more obvious on men, but women also have fine hair on their toes. If you notice an absence of hair on your feet, it could signal peripheral arterial disease (PAD), according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. PAD is the restriction of blood in the arteries of the leg and may signal more widespread arterial problems, which can cause heart disease.

If you have a wound on your foot that won’t heal, it could signal a risk of diabetes. Approximately 15 per cent of people with diabetes develop an ulcer, or open sore, on the bottom of their feet. Anywhere from 14 to 24 per cent of those people will require an amputation due to infection, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. People who use insulin are more at risk than those who manage their diabetes with other medications and diet.

If your big toe swells, it could be a sign of gout. The first symptom of gout is often an enlarged and painful big toe, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Gout is a type of arthritis causes by a build-up of uric acid, which forms in the coldest part of your body, which is your big toe.

Having a persistent pins and needles feeling in your feet could be a sign of peripheral neuropathy. People with diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic neuropathy nerve damage that begins in the feet and gradually progresses up the legs, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Treating the underlying condition may result in the numbness reversing itself. It is important to talk with your doctor immediately if you experience numbness in both feet.

Pitted toenails may be a sign of psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. Other signs of nail psoriasis include discolouration, crumbling, loosening, thickening, or horizontal lines in your nails. Treating the psoriasis can help. Some people also find that having regular manicures and pedicures by professionals familiar with nail psoriasis can help improve the appearance of your nails.

Sunken toenails or spoon-like indentations may signal chronic iron deficiency, or anaemia, according to a report in The Permanente Journal. Concave nails, called koilonychia, can also be caused by high altitude, trauma, or exposure to petroleum products. You should see your doctor for an evaluation for iron deficiency if you notice indentations in your nails.

Sore toe joints may be a sign of a degenerative joint disease. Rheumatoid arthritis typically starts in the small joints of the hands and feet and causes pain during movement and tenderness in the joint according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. If you have persistent achiness or swelling in the joints of your feet or hands, talk to your doctor about seeing a rheumatologist.

The inability to lift the front part of your foot is called foot drop and is caused by paralysis or weakness of the muscles that lift the foot, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. This condition may signal a number of underlying disorders, such as neurodegenerative disorders, multiple sclerosis, stroke, cerebral palsy, polio, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or other muscle or nerve disorders. Treating the underlying condition may reverse the symptom.

Toes that turn blue when exposed to cold might signal Raynaud’s disease. This is a disorder of the blood vessels supplying the skin. Certain parts of the body, such as the toes and fingers, become numb and turn blue when exposed to cool temperatures or when you are under stress. People with Raynaud’s disease often take precautions such as always covering their hands and feet when going outdoors in the cool weather.

Unless you regularly get foot massages and pedicures, you probably do not give your feet much attention or even a second glance. But, if you take a closer look, your feet and toes could reveal signs of an underlying medical condition.

The likelihood is that you are perfectly fine. Most likely your symptoms are benign, but it is important to be aware of anything that could be an underlying health condition.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.comSOURCES: American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, American Podiatric Medical Association, Arthritis Foundation, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, The Permanente Journal, Johns Hopkins Medicine.