What Your Feet Say About Your Health

female feet and hands

What Your Feet Say About Your Health

Our feet are drastically under appreciated.

They do a lot of work. Our feet are our primary method of transportation, without them, you’d quite literally be going nowhere, so give them a bit more credit.

A second thing our feet are under appreciated for – they make excellent medical tools! …bare with me here.

Feet can actually tell us an awful lot about the condition of our general health, and act to warn us about underlying health worries that could cause trouble if left undiscovered. Everything from a niggling foot pain to more serious symptoms like lumpy toenails and numbness can be something to look out for.

Our feet often begin to show signs of disease before they appear anywhere else in the body, so it’s good to know what you should be looking for.

(A word of caution: If something you read in this article worries you, your first course of action should be to seek out the opinion of you doctor – google is not a medical professional.)

 Clues Your Feet Give You; And What They Could Mean

  • Dry, flaky skin

Even if you’re prone to dry skin, don’t overlook dryness and flaking of skin on your feet.

These can be telltale signs of a fungus infection, the most common of these is athlete’s foot. Despite the name, you don’t have to be the sporty type to contract athlete’s foot. The condition usually begins with dry, itchy skin and will progress to inflammation and blistering.

  • Bald Toes

If the fuzz on the tops of your toes, or indeed the rest of the hair on your foot, disappears, this could be a sign of circulatory issues.

Poor circulation to the feet is usually caused due to vascular issues. Hair loss takes place because your heart loses the ability to pump adequate amounts of blood to the areas furthest away from it.

Atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries) is the most common form of vascular disease. This same condition is often what leads to heart attacks or stroke in many cases, so hair loss on your feet is definitely worth paying attention to!

  • Numbness in both feet

Consistent tingling, pins and needles or numbness in both feet is a hallmark sign of peripheral neuropathy. This is nerve damage in your extremities.

This nerve damage has a number of causes. The top two most common causes in the modern population are diabetes and alcohol abuse.

If you’re worried about neuropathy, it’s best to see a physician who will pinpoint the cause for you. While there is no cure for this particular symptom, medications are available to treat the tingling sensations[1].

If numbness of your feet persists, it’s important to regularly check your feet for cuts, bruises and blisters. Open wounds can go unnoticed on numb feet, becoming infected and a cause for concern.

  • Enlarged, painful big toe

It’s likely that a suddenly swollen and sore big toe is a sign of gout.

Gout might seem like a disease you’ve only ever read about in your history textbooks but it is still far more common than you might think.

Gout is a form of arthritis that’s caused by a buildup of uric acid in the body. This acid crystallises, forming needle-like structures that create the painful symptoms of gout.

The reason gout usually shows up in your toes before anywhere else is due to the tendency of uric acid to crystallise more readily at lower body temperatures, i.e. areas further away from the heart where to blood is cool[2].

Gout can be controlled through diet and medication. You should seek the help of a doctor if you’re consistently waking up with red-hot swollen toe-joints.

  • Toenail Clubbing[3]

If your toenails appear excessively rounded, taking on a more convex shape than usual, this is a medical symptom known as ‘nail clubbing’.

It’s usually a sign of disease of the airways or blood vessels as it means that there’s not enough oxygen being delivered to your toes by your bloodstream.

  • Toenail Spooning[4]

This is far rarer than nail clubbing, but not entirely impossible.

If your toenails appear sunken and spoon-shaped this is a sign of severe iron deficiency or anaemia.

It’s rare to see nail spooning due to the severity of anaemia that is required for it to happen – normally other symptoms will have been picked up and the deficiency will have been treated before it gets this bad.

  • Cold feet (toes turning white)

Cold feet is a very common complaint – especially amongst women (or, more precisely, their bedmates).

Although often cold feet are nothing to worry about, they can occasionally be a sign of something more serious going on.

Cold feet can be due to an under-functioning thyroid gland. This is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck that is in charge of regulating your body temperature and metabolism.

Poor circulation can also be the reason behind your cold feet. The most extreme form of this is called ‘Raynaud’s disease’. Raynaud’s could be something to think about if you frequently experience a severe whitening of your toes and fingers in response to the cold[5].

If your toenails appear thickened and discoloured, you might have a Fungal infection. The medical name of this is ‘Onychomycosis[6]’ and it can persist painlessly for years if it goes untreated.

The condition is visibly unattractive, however, even if it isn’t causing any other more serious symptoms.

  • Hyperhidrosis (Smelly feet)

Perhaps the most common foot-related complaint universally is smelly feet.

Fortunately, while unpleasant door frequently causes more alarm than most other foot symptoms, it is rarely a sign that something is physically amiss.

Feet contain a more numerous amount of sweat glands than any other part of the human body, and some people are prone to sweat more than others[7]. Additionally, our habit of keeping our feet wrapped up in socks and shoes creates an environment in which bacteria can thrive.

To remove unpleasant smells from your feet, wash them with antibacterial soap and dry them well on a daily basis, stick to cotton socks and make sure to air out and dry your shoes properly too!

[1] Pryce, T. Davies. “A case of perforating ulcers of both feet associated with diabetes and ataxic symptoms.” The Lancet130.3331 (1887): 11-12.

[2] Mikkelsen, William M., et al. “The distribution of serum uric acid values in a population unselected as to gout or hyperuricemia: Tecumseh, Michigan 1959–1960.” The American journal of medicine 39.2 (1965): 242-251.

[3] Fawcett, Robert S., Sean Linford, and Daniel L. Stulberg. “Nail abnormalities: clues to systemic disease.” American family physician 69.6 (2004).

[4] Fawcett, Robert S., Sean Linford, and Daniel L. Stulberg. “Nail abnormalities: clues to systemic disease.” American family physician 69.6 (2004).

[5] Wigley, Fredrick M. “Raynaud’s phenomenon.” New England Journal of Medicine 347.13 (2002): 1001-1008.

[6] Ghannoum, M. A., et al. “A large-scale North American study of fungal isolates from nails: the frequency of onychomycosis, fungal distribution, and antifungal susceptibility patterns.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 43.4 (2000): 641-648.

[7] Atkins, Joanne L., and P. E. Butler. “Hyperhidrosis: a review of current management.” Plastic and reconstructive surgery110.1 (2002): 222-228.

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