Experts say the state of our feet can reveal a number of other health issues
They may spend most of the year hidden away under socks, but our feet are in fact a window to what’s really happening in our bodies.
“We neglect our feet and put up with signs and symptoms that, in any other part of the body, would have us running to medical professionals,” says podiatrist Jake Heath from One Wellness Clinic in Wimpole Street, London.
“Yet noticeable changes can be indicators of wider health issues.”
So it might be time to take a closer look at those tootsies…
Enlarged big toe
It could be… gout
Not only the preserve of men with pot bellies and a rich diet. “Gout is a build-up of razor-sharp uric acid crystals in a joint,” explains Jake. “This can be caused by being overweight, certain medications or a high protein diet, but it can also be genetic.” For most people the first sign comes in the form of a sore, red, swollen big toe.
What to do: If you have pain in your big toe or another joint, such as the knee or elbow, see your GP, who can test for gout. Icing the joint and non-steroid anti-inflammatories can reduce pain. A low-protein diet, drinking lots of water and losing weight can also help.
It could be… hypothyroidism
Not that moment when you slip into bed – more if you suffer from particularly chilly hands and feet. Hypo¬thyroidism is known as an underactive thyroid gland.
Cold feet can also be caused by Raynaud’s disease. “This is where the blood vessels to the toes and fingers are hyper¬¬sensitive to temper¬¬ature, stress, smoking and medication,” says Jake. “They constrict, reducing blood flow and making them appear white. Later, when the blood flow returns, they can be red, swollen and itchy.”
What to do: Other common signs of hypo¬¬thyroidism are tiredness, weight gain, aching muscles and depression. If you have these too see your GP for a thyroid function test. For Raynaud’s, avoid extreme temperatures.
Red ulcers or numbness
It could be… diabetes
Numbness or loss of sensation around the feet and red ulcers that don’t heal are major clues to undiagnosed type 2 diabetes.
“The start of persistent numbness and/or tingling in the toes can be the sign of peripheral nerve damage associated with type 2 diabetes,” says Jake.
“This can increase the chance of developing severe ulcers as the skin tissue breaks down unnoticed and exposes underlying layers of skin.Eventually these ulcers may require long-term antibiotics and in extreme cases amputations.”
What to do: Diabetes symptoms include a persistent thirst, needing to urinate more often, tiredness and weight loss. See your doctor at once if you notice these signs.
It could be… a lung condition
Have your nails changed shape? If so, this could
be more than a cosmetic problem.
“Cardiovascular, lung or gastrointestinal problems, can lead to the clubbed appearance of all the nails on the toes and fingers,” says Jake. “The shape will change and they appear distorted.” This could be due to a cut in the blood’s oxygen levels.
What to do: “Speaking to your GP or podiatrist about changes in colour, or shape, of nails is a good idea,” says Jake.
It could be… vascular disease
Few of us would want hairy feet. But toes totally devoid of hair can be a problem. If the heart is struggling to pump enough blood to your extremities it will cause problems with your circulation. That will make the skin look shiny and hair will not grow there.
“Discoloured feet which appear red, white or purple with thick nails, loss of hair and thin, brittle, or shiny skin, can all be signs of underlying circulatory issues, or peripheral vascular disease,” says Jake.
What to do: See your GP or a podiatrist if you notice any of these symptoms.
Thickened, crumbling or discoloured nails
It could be… Psoriasis
“Nail pitting may be a sign of psoriasis, a chronic skin condition caused by an overactive immune system,” says Jake. Psoriasis affects 1–2% of the population and can be linked to stress, medication or genetics. Jake says half of patients with psoriasis will have nail problems. Other sym¬ptoms are flaking, inflammation and thick white, silvery or red skin patches.
What to do: Treatments include steroid creams, light therapy and oral medications. If your nails are pitted see a GP.
Sore toe joints
It could be… rheumatoid arthritis
Small joints in the hands and feet are often the first to be affected by this auto-immune condition.
“The joint doesn’t move as well as it should,” says Jake. “People with other forms of arthritis have stiff joints in the morning but with rheumatoid arthritis it can be several hours before they ease. There can be swelling and fluid in the joint, which makes them puffy, and the toes often feel sensitive and tender.
“Over time it causes severe damage to the cartilage and joints, leading to a loss of movement and intense pain.”
What to do: See your GP immediately as early diagnosis is key to preventing damage to the joints and cartilage.