What Your Feet Say About Your Health

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Your feet can tell you a lot about your general health condition or warn you of underlying health conditions. From pesky foot pain to more serious symptoms, such as numbness, your feet often show symptoms of disease before any other part of your body.

feet and toes

Loss of hair on your feet and legs

Hair on toes is more obvious on men, but women also have fine hair on their toes. If you notice an absence of hair on your feet, it could signal peripheral arterial disease (PAD), according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

PAD is the restriction of blood in the arteries of the leg and may signal more widespread arterial disease, which can cause heart disease.

foot ulcers diagram

Ulcer on the bottom of your foot that doesn’t heal

If you have a wound on your foot that won’t heal, it could signal a risk of diabetes. Approximately 15 percent of people with diabetes develop an ulcer, or open sore, on the bottom of their foot. Anywhere from 14 to 24 percent of those people will require an amputation due to infection according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. People who use insulin are more at risk than those who manage their diabetes with other medications and diet.

feet in warm socks in front of fireplace

Cold feet

Cold feet may be an indication of PAD, also known as poor circulation according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. It can also be a symptom of thyroid dysfunction according to National Academy of Hypothyroidism. If you consistently have cold feet or cold hands, talk to your doctor about PAD and thyroid disease. In the meantime, keep your feet warm in thick wool socks and slippers.

yellow toenails caused by fungus

Thick, yellow toenails

If one or more of your toenails starts to thicken, change color or separate from the skin, you might have a fungal infection. People with autoimmune diseases who take immunosuppressant medications are more at risk of developing fungal infections according to an article in the Laboratory of Taxonomy. Other medications, such as corticosteroids, can also increase your risk of developing a fungal infection according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

gout toe

Enlarged big toe

If your big toe swells, it could be a sign of gout. The first symptom of gout is often an enlarged and painful big toe according to the Arthritis Foundation. Gout is a type of arthritis causes by a build-up of uric acid, which forms in the coldest part of your body, which is your big toe.

doctor checking feet sensitivity

Numbness in both feet

Having a persistent “pins and needles” feeling in your feet could be a sign of peripheral neuropathy. People with diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic neuropathy— nerve damage that begins in the feet and gradually progresses up the legs, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Treating the underlying condition may result in the numbness reversing itself. It is important to talk with your doctor immediately if you experience numbness in both feet.

hiding toes in sand

Pitted toenails

Pitted toenails may be a sign of psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. Other signs of nail psoriasis include discoloration, crumbling, loosening, thickening, or horizontal lines in your nails. Treating the psoriasis can help. Some people also find that having regular manicures and pedicures by professionals familiar with nail psoriasis can help improve the appearance of your nails.

red blood cells

Toenails with spoon-shaped indentations

Sunken toenails or spoon-like indentations may signal chronic iron deficiency, or anemia, according to a report in The Permanente Journal. Concave nails, called koilonychia, can also be caused by high altitude, trauma, or exposure to petroleum products. You should see your doctor for an evaluation for iron deficiency if you notice indentations in your nails.

sore toe joints

Stiff or sore joints

Sore toe joints may be a sign of a degenerative joint disease. Rheumatoid arthritis typically starts in the small joints of the hands and feet and causes pain during movement and tenderness in the joint according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. If you have persistent achiness or swelling in your joints of your feet or hands, talk to your doctor about seeing a rheumatologist.

doctor examining foot

Inability to lift the front part of your foot

The inability to lift the front part of your foot is called foot drop and is caused by paralysis or weakness of the muscles that lift the foot according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. This condition may signal a number of underlying disorders, such as neurodegenerative disorders, multiple sclerosis, stroke, cerebral palsy, polio, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or other muscle or nerve disorders. Treating the underlying condition may reverse the symptom.

bluish feet

Red or blue toes

Toes that turn blue when exposed to cold might signal Raynaud’s disease. This is a disorder of the blood vessels supplying the skin. Certain parts of the body, such as the toes and fingers, become numb and turn blue when exposed to cool temperatures or when you are under stress. People with Raynaud’s disease often take precautions such as always covering their hands and feet when going outdoors in the cool weather.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.