9 Things Your Feet Reveal About Your Health

9 Things Your Feet Reveal About
Your Health


The nurse just took your temperature, checked your blood
pressure, and even made you step on the scale (with that heavy sweater on, no
less). And as she hands you the paper gown, she gives her final directive: “You
can leave your socks on.”

When it comes to your health, that could be a big mistake. A
change in your feet–whether on the skin, nails, or even how they feel–can be
the first sign of a potentially serious problem that, if caught early, could
save your life. “Our feet are the first parts to be affected by nerve issues
because they’re the farthest from our hearts and spine,” explains Carolyn
McAloon, DPM, a Bay Area podiatrist and president of the California Podiatric
Medication Association. Even more reason to never ignore feet: They’re easily
compromised when our bodies feel threatened, since we send blood to the
internal organs and the brain before the extremities. (Check out 9 Insanely
comfortable podiatrist-approved sandals that won’t wreck your feet

Here, we reveal what could be lurking behind your most common
foot concerns. If you see something familiar on the list, it’s best to get it
checked by your doc or podiatrist before attempting any treatment.


1. Hairless feet and toes

What it might mean: Serious circulation problems

Sure, it’s a pain during sandal season, but hair on your toes is
a good thing. Sudden baldness can be a sign that your feet aren’t getting
enough blood flow to sustain hair growth. Expect your doctor to check for a
pulse in your feet, which is another indication that your heart may not be able
to pump enough blood to your feet, says Dr. McAloon.


2. Frequent foot cramping

What it might mean: Dehydration and nutritional deficiencies



Randomly occurring cramps are about as generic as foot problems
get. They can be as serious as circulation and nerve issues, or as harmless as
a nutritional deficiency. If you’re exercising, be sure to drink plenty of
water, since dehydration often leads to muscle cramping. You might also try
upping your intake of potassium, magnesium, and calcium (with your doctor’s
go-ahead, of course), since their deficiencies make cramps more common. “For
relief, soak feet in a warm foot bath and stretch your toes toward your nose,
not pointing down,” says Dr. McAloon. If the cramps don’t let up, see your
doctor for testing to rule out circulation issues or nerve damage.

3. A sore that won’t heal

What it might mean: Diabetes or skin cancer

Stubborn sores are red flags for diabetes. Uncontrolled glucose
levels in the blood can lead to nerve damage all the way down in your feet,
which means any cut, sore, or scrape can come and go without you ever feeling
it. And if it gets infected, the most serious cases may call for amputation.

A non-healing wound can also be a sign of skin cancer, says Dr.
McAloon. Melanoma can pop up anywhere on your body–even in between your toes–so
be sure to include your feet in your regular skin checks. (Brush up on your
mole-detecting skills here

4. Perpetually cold feet

What it might mean: Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is the most common cause of feet that just can’t
get warm. And if you’re over 40, you could be living with a sluggish thyroid
without even knowing it. Unfortunately, cold feet are the least of your
problems–hypothyroidism can also cause hair loss, fatigue, unexplained weight
gain, and depression. Get your feet feeling toasty again by heading to your doc
for a simple blood test, and you’ll start warming up shortly after starting the
daily medication.

5. Suddenly enlarged big toe

What it might mean: Gout or other inflammatory issue

“The sudden onset of a red, hot, swollen, and painful joint
requires immediate medical attention,” says Dr. McAloon. Typical causes include
gout, inflammatory arthritis, infection, or trauma.

6. Bunions

What it might mean: Inherited faulty foot structure

If you thought your bunions were caused exclusively by a closet
full of gorgeous (yet restrictive and often painful) shoes, you can stop
blaming the boutique. Bunions are actually a sign of a flawed foot structure
that’s often inherited and merely aggravated by inappropriate shoes. “The first
foot bone drives toward the middle of the body, and you see the bump,” explains
Dr. McAloon. It can be painful and unsightly, but the only way to really
correct it is with surgery.

7. Heel pain

What it might mean: Plantar fasciitis

You can’t mistake it–that sharp pain in the bottom of the heel
when you get out of bed or stand up from a chair. It’s a strain of the ligament
that supports you arch. And whether you did it by wearing too-tight shoes,
walking in flip-flops, or wearing worn-out workout sneakers, the longer you let
it go, the longer it takes to heal. Your podiatrist will probably tell you to
ease up on your workout at first, rethink your footwear, and adopt a good
stretching routine.

8. Flaky, itchy, or peeling

What it might mean: Fungal infection

Even if you’re never donned an athletic jersey in your life, you
could still be walking around with athlete’s foot–the euphemistic term for a
fungal infection. The most common cause of itchiness and peeling, it can be
treated by applying anti-fungal cream and keeping your feet as cool and dry as
possible during the day. If you’re fungus-free, you might be dealing with
eczema or psoriasis–both to be determined by your podiatrist through a skin

More from Prevention: 9 Highly Effective
Eczema Treatments

9. Yellow toenails

What it might mean: Fungus or pedicure overload

Seeing yellow when you look down? Don’t freak out–especially if
you’ve been wearing nail polish for months on end without a break. “Yellowness
can also happen naturally with age,” says Dr. McAloon. If it’s accompanied by
brittleness or flaking, it’s most likely you have a fungal infection like
athlete’s foot.

The article was
written by Nina Elias and originally appeared on Prevention.com





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