Foot clues to heart disease
February is always recognized as healthy heart month. If you’re wondering about the health of your heart, try looking at your feet. If your feet show signs of poor circulation – or peripheral arterial disease (PAD) – your heart may be at risk as well. Here’s what to look for.
Pain in leg/foot
The classic symptoms of PAD – pain in the legs when walking or at rest – occurs in only 10 percent of the patients. This pain usually occurs when active such as when walking, and is relieved with rest. Often, the pain occurs at the same distance of walking or activity, for example after five minutes or a particular spot on your walk. Cramping most often occurs in the calf muscles, but can also occur in the thigh or buttock muscles. This is called intermittent claudication and is relieved when you stop walking and rest. In some people, the disease progresses and the amount of blood flowing down the leg/foot is not enough to carry the nutrients and oxygen to the feet. Because of this, the individual will get pain in their feet; first only when walking and eventually even when they are not walking. This is called rest pain.
Hair loss to feet
Loss of hair on the feet is another possible sign of poor circulation. I am not talking about people who shave their legs – and it doesn’t mean that everyone who has always had smooth legs without hair, has PAD. I mean somebody that grows hair elsewhere on the body, on the legs however when there is no hair growing on their feet and ankles, it could be a sign of PAD or arterial disease. This happens because there is not enough blood flow to encourage the hair to grow on the feet.
Low or no pulses
There are two pulses in both that are easily detected by a trained health professional. This test is performed to determine the blood flow to your feet. If the flow is normal, pulses will be easily felt. If the flow is poor or absent, the pulses may be very low or cannot be felt at all. Sometimes, a hand held doppler can also be used to listen to the pulses. Low or no pulses are a sign of lack of blood flow and PAD.
Good blood flow to the feet ensures it is warm and pink. When the blood flow is not good to the feet, this is called poor circulation. The feet may feel cool to the touch and may not be pink. It can be a dusky grayish or a bluish color. This also indicates poor circulation.
Wound that does not heal
Without nutrients and oxygen getting down into the foot, the skin is unable to function properly. If there is a cut or break in the skin from minor trauma an ulcer or wound develops. Because of the poor circulation this wound may take a very long time to heal or may not heal at all leading to gangrene and an amputation.
The skin may appear thin and shiny.
Swelling in feet and ankle
With age, heart disease and many other conditions, fluid may build up in your feet and lower legs leading to swelling in the ankle and feet.
If you have any of the signs or symptoms above, or if you think you may have PAD or health disease, see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will take a medical and family history, perform a physical exam, and conduct diagnostic tests. They will check your pulses and maybe the blood pressure in your legs to compare to the ones in your arm to check the blood supply to your feet. More tests may be needed.
Early diagnosis of PAD can help identify heart disease which will allow early treatment and intervention if needed. It will also help you to make lifestyle changes that can reverse and prevent the progression of the disease by making simple changes:
Quit smoking: Don’t smoke, and if you do, quit. Consult with your healthcare provider to develop an effective cessation plan and stick to it.
Lower your numbers: Work with your healthcare provider to normalize any high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels.
Follow a healthy eating plan: Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Be sure to include lots of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Get moving: Make a commitment to be more physically active. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. Exercise is key to improving vascular health.
Aim for a healthy weight: If you are overweight or obese, work with your healthcare provider to develop an effective weight loss plan.
• For more information or to see a podiatrist visit Bahamas Foot Centre Rosetta Street, telephone 325-2996 or Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre, Albury Lane, telephone 394-5820 or email email@example.com or visit www.apma.org.