cold feet, bare feet in snowOur feet and ankles handle a great deal of day-to-day stress. Because your feet serve as the foundation for the rest of your body, they may help point toward more serious health conditions. 

There are five symptoms that may indicate deeper or more serious medical concerns: swelling of the feet, cold feet or white toes, numbess and tingling, hair loss, and foot cramps or spasms. If these symptoms persist or become severe, you may benefit from seeking professional guidance.

1. Swelling of the Feet

Foot swelling is one of the most common complaints I see in my office. While it is usually coupled with symptoms of pain or discomfort, swelling may point toward more serious problems. Backing up a bit, it's important to know what swelling means in the first place.

Nationwide Children's calls swelling "the body's reaction to injury," which is a perfect way to describe it. Swelling can be caused by a list of conditions, injuries, and diseases that is way too long to list here, including insect bites, fractures, allergic reactions, and more. 

When patients experience swelling in their feet, the first step is to rule out a fracture by performing a physical examination and obtaining x-rays. Patients with diabetes, cancer, and other underlying health conditions are more likely to experience swelling in the extremities, including the feet and ankles. Additionally, swollen feet can help your health care provider diagnose a range of other conditions, such as:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Kidney failure 
  • Liver failure
  • Blood clots

Lymphedemaswollen feet

Swelling of the feet, ankles, and lower limbs can also be caused by lymphedema. Lymphedema starts with the lymph nodes, which are small, bean-shaped structures that make up our body's immune system. One of their functions is to drain lymphatic fluid. When the lymph nodes stop draining fluid like they should and instead retain fluid, lymphedema is a likely cause.

Aside from swelling of the legs, feet, toes, arms, and/or fingers, symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • Heavy or tight feeling in the limbs and extremities
  • Restrcited range of motion
  • Recurring infections or cellulitis
  • Hardening or thickening of the skin

toes with raynaud's against a white background2. Cold Feet and Toes Turning White

In most cases toes turning white or becoming extremely cold is caused by a condition called Raynaud's syndrome. That said, not only can Raynaud's point toward other conditions, but other (more serious) conditions may be a fault for those symptoms in the first place. Cold feet and toes that turn white may point to:

  • Poor circulation
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Hyperlipedemia (high cholesterol) 
  • Thyroid issues

Raynaud's Syndrome

Clevland Clinic defines Raynaud's as "a disorder that affects small blood vessels in your fingers and toes." The condition can be categorized a few different ways: either as a disease that isn't caused by another issue (also called primary Raynaud's), or a phenomenon occuring dur to an underlying conditions, pharmeceuticals, or lifestyle details (also called secondary Raynaud's). While Raynaud's is not serious in most cases and does not damage your vessels, secondary Raynaud's may lead to ulcers and even gangrene. According to the same Clevland Clinic article, "The underlying disease causing [Raynaud's] may be severe in and of itself."

Women, people under 30, and people with a family history of Raynaud's are most likely to experience the symptoms. Lupus and other autoimmune conditions are also at a higher risk. 

3. Numbess and Tingling of the Feet

There are innumerable conditions and factors that can cause numbness and tingling in the feet, including but certainly not limited to:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome 
  • Kidney failure
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Diabetes
  • Neuropathy

Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neurpathy is considered nerve damage caused by high blood sugar and diabetes. Mayo Clinic estimates that at least 50% of those with diabetes suffer from diabetic neuropathy. Blood sugar management, lifestyle changes, and otherwise managing your diabetes can help minimize the symptoms. Symptoms include numbess, tingling, burning, and even extreme sensitivity to touch.

4. Hair Loss

I know you may not want to admit it, but we all have hair on our toes (in my experience, some more than others!). According to the CDC, losing hair on your feet and toes may indicate poor circulation or arterial disease. If you notice that the hair on your toes has become noticeably thinner or is completely gone, you should see a professional.

Why are my toes hairy?hairy feet and toes, barefoot on cement

You probably inherited your hairy toes from your parents-- thanks Mom and Dad. Aside from being genetic, hairy toes could also point to adrenal or ovarian disorders. Excessive hair on the toes may simply be a side effect from medication. Shaving, waxing, laser hair removal, and electrolysis are among safe and effective methods to get rid of your toe-hair (if it bothers you). Please remember that body hair is normal, and hairy toes are nothing to be ashamed of.

5. Foot Cramps and Spasms

Having an abnormal amount or unbalanced levels of vitamins, minerals, or electrolytes may be to blame for your foot cramps. Make sure to hydrate and don't forget your electrolytes! Being hydrated involves more than simply drinking enough water, and your body needs electrolytes in order to actually be hydrated and, thus, to function properly. You can invest in powdered electrolytes like LMNT, but a few shakes of sea salt in your water or a glass of coconut water will also do the trick. 

If your feet are spasming, a brain disorder, multiple sclerosis, or dystonia may be at play. Dystonia, simply put, is a disorder that causes involuntary spasms of your muscles and can be managed with physical therapy and medication.

If your feet cramp or spasm constantly, or if improving your diet does not fix the problem, it's time to visit a professional to take a deeper look at your symptoms. 

What are my feet trying to tell me?

Your feet talk to you, all you have to do is listen! When you have concerns about your feet, the first place you should go is a podiatrist, also known as a foot and ankle specialist. 


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