Avoiding tobacco, staying physically active, and eating a balanced diet are all good practices to help keep your heart healthy. Other tips for preventing heart disease may not be as obvious, such as flossing your teeth on a regular basis, or keeping an eye on your feet. When you think about cardiac wellness, your mind probably doesn’t automatically go to your feet. But even though they couldn’t be further from your heart, your feet can actually tip you off to certain types of cardiac trouble.
What kind of signals from your feet should you be paying attention to when it comes to your heart health? Read on for five surprising signs that your ticker could be in trouble.
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Thinning, graying, split ends… The hair on our heads can tell us a lot about our general wellness. But have you ever paid attention to the hair on your toes? According to Erum N. Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD, board certified dermatologist and CEO and founder of AmberNoon, you should. Decreased hair on the toes may be a message about your heart health.
Loss of hair on the toes can signal poor circulation, which can result in “a decrease of blood flow to the small blood vessels that support hair growth,” says Ilyas. That includes the hair on your toes: “The added swelling in the legs can also cause hair thinning or loss on the toes and feet.”
Ilyas explains that an “increase in the thickness or rough texture to hair on the toes is generally indicative of either improved circulation, hormonal change, or genetics”—but it can also be a symptom of an ovarian or adrenal disorder. To be safe, bring it up with your healthcare provider.
Whether it’s due to pregnancy, certain medications, or consuming too many salty foods, swelling in the feet and ankles (also known as edema) can have a lot of potential causes. It manifests in puffy feet with stretched-looking, shiny skin that may display an imprint after being pressed down on for several seconds—and can indicate a range of issues, including cirrhosis and kidney disease. But swollen feet can also have an important connection to the heart, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“If you have congestive heart failure, one or both of your heart’s lower chambers lose their ability to pump blood effectively,” their experts explain. “As a result, blood can back up in your legs, ankles and feet, causing edema.” When swelling occurs in the stomach, fluid may collect in the lungs and cause pulmonary edema. Shortness of breath can result, as well as chest pain and difficulty breathing.
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If you’re one of those people who love cozy socks and fuzzy mittens, chances are you’re familiar with the sensation of cold hands and feet.
“Many people frequently have cold feet, as well as cold hands,” William Kormos, M.D. tells Harvard Health, adding that in some, it may be an inherited trait. But, he explains, “the main medical problems that cause cold feet are decreased circulation in the extremities and nerve damage [because of] atherosclerosis, where arteries are narrowed by fatty deposits and impede blood flow in the limbs.”
In addition to feeling cold, “your feet may appear blue or purple when you are sitting, and pale or white when you are lying down. You may feel pain in your calves when you walk.” This could be a sign of peripheral artery disease (PAD), which can also cause pain in the legs while walking.
Blue or purple toenails can occur when you’ve stubbed the heck out of your foot. But your nails can tell you a lot about your health, and if you haven’t suffered a recent injury, blue toenails can indicate cyanosis. This condition occurs “when you have blue, grayish, or purple skin because your blood isn’t carrying enough oxygen,” according to Verywell Health. This can happen in the nail beds as well as other parts of the body, including the lips. “Cyanosis means your muscles, organs, and other tissues may not be getting the oxygen they need to operate properly,” they say.
Cyanosis can point to a number of issues; three serious conditions are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary hypertension (a complication of COPD), and congestive heart failure. Verywell Health recommends seeking treatment immediately if you experience symptoms such as blue skin, nail beds, or mucous membranes, as well as difficulty breathing.
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