Medical Conditions Causing Foot Problems
Some medical conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis and gout, which affect the nerves or the blood circulation, can adversely influence the health of the feet. These diseases become increasingly likely as people age.
Diabetes happens to be notorious for causing foot problems, often serious ones if left untreated. Diabetes is, therefore, the leading cause of foot problems among all medical conditions. It is easy to understand why given the fact that about 7% of the population in industrialized nations live with diabetes, with many of them without knowing they actually are diabetics. About 15% of diabetics are reported to develop foot ulcers that are difficult to heal. Diabetes also happens to be the leading cause of limb amputations in Western countries. However, it is estimated that proper foot care could prevent 50-75% of all diabetes-related foot amputations.
There are two common conditions closely associated with diabetes that often lead to foot problems: neuropathy or nerve damage in the legs or feet, which affects 90% of long-term diabetics and poor blood circulation. The steady blood circulation brings oxygen and bacteria-fighting white cells to the feet. When the circulation is poor, an infection can arise from even a tiny cut or blister on the foot. Damaged nerves are adding to the problem as they fail to send warning signals of discomfort to the brain. Once the infection has progressed too far, gangrene can develop. This often leaves amputation as the only possible alternative. Therefore, preventive foot care is particularly important for diabetics.
Nerve damage can shorten the foot tendons and weaken the muscles in the foot and thus result in altering the shape of the foot. Neuropathy can also cause cracks in the skin, allowing bacteria to enter. Symptoms of neuropathy in the foot include numbness, burning and tingling. Reddened skin around any blister or cut, particularly if the area feels warm to the touch, may indicate an infection that requires a medical attention.
When the blood vessels are damaged, they become stiff and their ability to expand and contract in response to cold and heat is impaired. These actions are needed to insulate the feet from extremes of temperature. Because the feet are the part of the body that is farthest from the heart, it takes longer for blood to get there anyway. Blood vessel disorder inevitably makes the situation yet worse. One symptom of the poor blood circulation in the feet is that the feet feel cold to the touch. Another one is the loss of hair below the knee. Additional indications of inadequate blood flow include leg pain when not walking and calf pain while walking.
The best protection against the adverse effects of diabetes on your feet is to keep them clean and dry at all times, while paying special attention to skin care. An accidental puncture wound or a cut warrants an immediate visit to the doctor. Diabetics should bath their feet every day in warm water (neither too hot nor too cold), then dry them with a soft, clean towel, trim their toenails regularly, use skin creams to keep the skin on their feet moist and wear soft, clean socks and sturdy but comfortable shoes that cover their whole feet.
Arthritis involves inflammation of joints and it typically affects those joints that are used most. In the foot arthritis usually affects the big toe, though any foot joint can become arthritic. Treatments include medications to relieve the pain and inflammation such as acetylsalicylate (Aspirin, Bufferin, etc.), paracetamol (synonym is acetaminophen that can be found in Tylenol and a number of other OTC products) or ibuprofen (Advil, Midol, Nuprin, etc.), well-fitting comfortable shoes and regular attention by a podiatrist experienced in arthritis care. Specific exercises can be prescribed to ease discomfort, which is typically at its worst in the morning.
Gout is a specific form of arthritis caused by deposits of crystalline material in the joints. This disorder often runs in families. Gout is known to be eight to nine times more common in men than in women of premenopausal age. The most commonly affected sites are the big toe, heel and knee. The pain is usually worst at night. In most patients, symptoms tend to be less severe if they start after the age of 30. Gout often fades away and then returns, over and over again. Surgery should be considered only as a last resort.