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What Your Feet Can Tell You About Your Heart Health

Foot and ankle pain can be caused by many things. Maybe you're a little stiff and sore from yesterday's work out. Maybe you twisted your foot the wrong way corralling your runaway dog or maybe lower extremity biomechanics and structural deformities cause your footaches. Perhaps it's a symptom of chronic conditions like diabetes and arthritis. But did you know that your feet may also be giving you hints about your heart's health.

PAD or peripheral artery disease often referred to as poor circulation is caused by a blockage or narrowing of the arteries of the legs when fatty deposits or plaque build up. PAD effects more than 8 million Americans and is one of the leading causes of lower extremity amputations in the United States. PAD occurs most often in the arteries in the legs and microcirculation to the foot but it can also effect other arteries that carry blood outside the heart. This includes arteries that go to the aorta, the brain, the arms, the kidneys, and the stomach. When arteries inside the heart are hardened or narrowed, it is called coronary artery disease (CAD) or cardiovascular disease.

According to the American Heart Association. PAD is often undiagnosed. Untreated PAD increases your risk of CAD, heart attack, stroke, gangrene or amputation. The symptoms of PAD include the following:

  • Foot, calf, buttock, hip, or thigh discomfort (aching, fatigue, tingling, cramping, or pain) when you walk relieved by rest

  • Foot or toe pain at rest that often disturbs your sleep

  • A lower body temperature in your extremities compared to the rest of your body

  • Poor leg hair growth

  • Pale, discolored, or bluish toes

  • Diminished or absent pedal (foot) pulses

  • Skin wounds or ulcers on your feet or toes that are slow to heal 

However, many individuals with PAD do not experience typical symptoms that may be overlooked or blamed on something else. Early detection of PAD offers an opportunity to treat risk factors that can slow the progression of the disease and decrease the chance of heart attack and stroke, improve the quality of life and prevent limb loss.

Identification of lower extremity vascular disease based on clinical findings are an integral part of the podiatric physicical exam. Podiatric physicians are often the physicians that first identify vascular abnormalities in a patient because - your feet can tell you a lot about your heart health.

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