Are Your Feet Trying to Warn You About Disease?

The feet are most often the least cared for part of the body. Sometimes this is due to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, and other times, it’s the fact that we take our feet for granted and ignore aches, pains, and other sensations that would normally get our attention elsewhere.

According to a survey from the American Podiatric Medical Association, 77 percent of US adults over age 18 have experienced foot pain. While that statistic isn’t alarming, what may surprise you is that foot pain is sometimes a signal of something else happening in the body. For example, there are signs that can point to serious illnesses like diabetes, nutritional deficiencies and dehydration. The feet are an amazing diagnostic tool that may offer a glimpse into your health, even before you see your doctor.

Below are five ways your feet can warn you about diseases:

  1. Wounds That Won’t Heal
    It is a normal thing for wounds to heal. However, if a cut, sore or laceration on your foot refuses heal – or heals very slowly – it is a sign of poor blood circulation. This can be a symptom of a disease. Diabetic patients with elevated blood glucose levels often experience nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). These two conditions interfere with pain signals and reduce the blood flow to injured tissue, preventing normal healing. That’s why there is such a strong correlation between diabetes and the incidence of foot ulcers, something we treat on a daily basis.
  2. Swollen, Painful Big Toe
    When you indulge on foods high in purine (a substance found in fish, red meats, and some type of alcohol), it can increase the levels of uric acid in your body. Uric acid is generally eliminated from the body through the urine. However, when it is over-produced through a diet rich in purine, uric acid will crystalize and become deposited in the joints, causing a painful form of arthritis known as gout. The first sign for most patients is sharp pain, redness and swelling at the base of the big toe. Gout attacks frequently occur in the middle of the night.
  3. Dark lines under toenails
    Different factors can cause the appearance of dark lines under your toenails. For example, trauma from long-distance running or impact to the toes may lead to a purple discoloration of a portion of the nail. Fungal infections can also cause a yellowing or darkening, typically near the front edge. However, if you spot a clear vertical line (a stripe) that runs down the length of the nail, you should have it checked out by your podiatrist. It may be a sign of melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can be hidden in parts of the body.
  4. Suddenly High Arches
    Sudden high arches may occur as a result of an underlying neuromuscular condition in the body. A common type of this condition is called Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT). It is condition that occurs when the peripheral nerves are damaged. This can result in loss of muscle in the lower leg, changes in gait, numbness in the feet, ankles and legs and difficulty in balancing. Spasms and cramping may be experienced along with other muscular and gastrointestinal issues.
  5. Spooned nails
    Spooned nail, also referred to as koilonychia, spoon-shaped or spooning nails is a thinning and concavity in the nails which causes a depression in the nail that makes it look like the shape of the spoon. It may be caused by an iron deficiency, anemia, Raynaud’s disease, lupus or thyroid disease. While most commonly seen in the fingernails, it may also be found in the toes.

You’ve heard that you should “listen to your body.” As you can see, this also goes for your feet and what they may be telling you. If you’ve observed any of these conditions affecting your feet, we recommend that you get checked out, especially if you’re unaware of the cause. Dr. Gabriel Maislos, DPM, FACFAS, specializes in disorders of the foot and ankle, and would be able to treat these conditions and provide additional referrals. He can also treat other common conditions that you may be experiencing, including bunions, ingrown toenails, heel and ankle pain. Don’t let these problems grow more serious over time. Call (713) 541-3199 to schedule an appointment today.

Houston Foot and Ankle

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