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Pretty Foot

Feet talk. Of course, they don’t rattle on like some annoying relative. They do often mirror overall health, at times being the first place to show signs of serious medical problems.

Is That Pain in the Foot a Tumor in the Neck?

For example, when a 41-year-old man came to my office with pain and swelling in his foot, he thought he had injured himself playing baseball; instead, we discovered a tumor in his neck. The tumor was altering chemicals in his body. One of these, uric acid, was so severely elevated that it couldn’t be contained in his bloodstream and entered several joints in his foot, causing his pain. The patient had the tumor removed, and a month later his foot pain disappeared. This case was especially rewarding because had this tumor not been caught, it could have affected his heart, possibly becoming fatal. (Read more about it HERE).

Most instances of feet revealing medical conditions are not this dramatic, but many systemic problems often show up in our feet first.

Nailing Down Nails

Let’s start with our toenails. Nowadays, with MRIs, CT scans, and hundreds of blood tests to choose from, few doctors look at toenails. Sadly, some don’t even give feet a cursory glance. But in ancient times, examining the toenails was as important as having patients stick out their tongue.

A small change in our toenails’ color, shape and pliability may be the only indication of a more serious medical problem. Toenails that become rounded or “clubbed” may mean the person has lung cancer, emphysema, liver disease or a heart problem.

Brittle nails could signal poor circulation, an iron deficiency or a kidney or thyroid problem. Short, small nail beds may be a sign of heart disease, and grey nails may mean the person has glaucoma.

Don’t Forget Your Vitamins

If you’re not eating your vegetables, toenails can reveal that too. A spoon-like or flat nail could mean a lack of certain B vitamins. Splitting and fraying of toenails may signal a need for folic acid or vitamin C. Small white patches on toenails could signal a zinc deficiency. (Read more about vitamins and our feet HERE).

Is That Redness on Your Foot an STD?

A rash or redness on the feet could be a sign of infection, a circulation problem or a sexually transmitted disease. That’s right, STDs—in my practice, I’ve seen signs of AIDS, herpes, syphilis and gonorrhea show up in the foot.

People are usually surprised to hear about sexual diseases in the foot. But when feet, oftentimes the big toe, get involved in sexual activity they are just as susceptible as any other body part to infectious diseases. Some diseases, like AIDS, cause growths and other skin changes on the feet, and others, like herpes, spread to the feet when the person removes their underwear.

Are your feet swelling up? When only one foot swells, it often signals a problem within the foot itself, such as infection or a fracture. It might also be due to a blood clot or a circulation problem. If both feet swell, it could mean you have heart, kidney or liver failure.

Is it just Dry Skin or Something More?

The skin of our feet tells us a lot, too. Dry skin may be a sign of an under-active thyroid, diabetes, poor circulation or malnutrition. Sweaty skin could mean an overactive thyroid, menopause, anxiety or a psychiatric disorder.

Bone deformities, such as heel spurs or bunions, may be a clue that the person has certain types of arthritis. Your doctor should check for these, as many arthritic diseases can affect the entire body, including the heart.      

Final Thoughts on Reading Your Feet

So, feet can reveal quite a lot of information about a person’s overall health, even when the condition has nothing to do with feet. On the lighter side, feet reveal plenty about a person’s personality as well. People love to adorn their feet with toe rings, ankle bracelets and even tattoos.

The most interesting tattoo I’ve seen was a trail of black ants on a young man that began at his big toe and went up his leg, apparently to his groin—I didn’t check.


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