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Check Your Health: Look at Your Feet

A quick way to tell if anything is afoot with your health is to take a peek at your feet.

Feet sometimes get the short shrift, but the fact of the matter is they are often indicators of how the rest of the body is faring. Through examination of the feet, a number of diseases and conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and vitamin deficiencies, can sometimes be detected long before other symptoms appear. When these health problems are discovered in their early stages, changes in lifestyle and medical treatment can slow their progression.

Warning signs from your feet:

  • A sore that won’t heal: May indicate diabetes. Diabetes diminishes blood flow, which slows healing. In addition, elevated glucose (blood sugar) levels caused by diabetes can cause nerve damage.
  • Swollen feet (fluid retention): May indicate heart disease and, in particular, heart failure.
  • Toenails with slightly sunken, spoon-shaped indentations: May indicate anemia (low iron levels). The body needs iron to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein found in red blood cells.

Keep your feet healthy:

  • Inspect feet regularly. Pay attention to changes in the color and temperature. Look for thick or discolored nails (a sign of fungus) and check for cracks or cuts in the skin. Peeling or scaling could indicate athlete’s foot.
  • Wash feet regularly, especially between the toes. Be sure to dry them completely.
  • Trim toenails straight across but not too short. Never cut nails in corners or on the sides, which can lead to ingrown toenails. (People with diabetes, poor circulation or heart problems should not treat or groom their own feet because they are more prone to infection.)
  • Make sure shoes fit properly. Wear shoes with firm soles and soft uppers that have one-half inch of space between the longest toe and the tip of the shoe (the longest toe is not always the big toe) and that allow the toes to wiggle upward. Purchase new shoes later in the day when feet tend to be at their largest.
  • Wear the appropriate shoe for the activity.  For example, steel toe, waterproof work boots when working in construction.
  • Don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day. Alternating shoes allows them to air out which limits your risk for fungal infections.
  • Avoid walking barefooted. Bare feet are more prone to injury and infection. At the beach or when wearing sandals, always use sunscreen on your feet.
  • Be cautious with home remedies. Self-treatment can turn minor problems into major ones.
  • Diabetic? Have a checkup with a podiatric specialist at least once a year.

The American Podiatric Medical Association, American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association websites provide additional information about foot health.

Keeping an eye on your feet helps you maintain wellness. Pay attention to them and get a leg up on your health.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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