By Dr. Brian K. Bailey, Podiatric Physician & Surgeon
If you’re wondering about the health of your heart, try looking at your feet.
The lowly, stepped-on, shoe-squished foot could very well hold clues about the state of your coronary arteries. If your feet show signs of poor circulation – or peripheral arterial disease – your heart could be suffering as well.
The feet may not invoke the same romantic notions as the heart – few sonnets or love songs are written in their honor – but they deserve a little love, podiatrists say.
As part of February’s heart health emphasis, we are urging people to have a simple test to check circulation in their feet for signs of PAD, which occurs when the arteries become narrowed by plaque.
Many people have no symptoms of PAD during the early stages. By the time symptoms are noticeable, the arteries often are significantly blocked.
The classic symptoms of PAD – pain in the legs when walking or at rest – occurs in only 10 percent of the patients. And even those symptoms can be confusing. Patients often wonder if the ache in their legs comes from aging or arthritis.
Some also have symptoms of heart disease, such as shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest, but don’t realize it because the pain in their legs limits their activity.
It’s really hard sometimes to quantify what is slowing someone down. Podiatrists are great at picking up on PAD, they know what to look for in terms of skin changes, leg changes and the signs on feet.
Podiatrists can regularly checks patients for the subtle signs that could indicate PAD. A loss of hair on the feet is one possible sign of poor circulation. That doesn’t mean that people who have always had smooth, rather hairless feet have PAD.
Different pulses, very cold feet or a change in color also could indicate a problem.
If any signs of PAD exist, a simple, non-invasive test called an ankle-brachial index is recommended. It compares the blood pressure in the ankles to the blood pressure in the arms.
The earlier PAD is diagnosed, the more likely treatment will be effective.
Patients might enroll in a supervised exercise program, which can improve PAD and their heart health. Medication can help the arteries relax so they can walk farther.
In some cases, patients have ulcers and sores that are not healing, which can indicate tissue loss in the legs. Intervention is needed to restore circulation and save the limb. Treatments include angioplasty, stents, a bypass or procedures to remove plaque from the arteries.
Many podiatry patients see cardiologists and family doctors regularly because they have diabetes or other conditions that put them at high risk for PAD. It’s always good to have another set of eyes checking the feet regularly for any subtle changes.
Those with risk factors for PAD should be screened or tested, podiatrists say. The risk factors include:
• Being older than 50
• Smoking (currently or previously)
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol
• Personal or family history of PAD, heart disease, heart attack or stroke
• Sedentary lifestyle (infrequent or no exercise)
Body-Mind-Spirit Podiatric Center
500 14th Street, Ashland, Kentucky, 41101
Phone (606) 324-FOOT