What can your feet tell you about the health of your cardiovascular system? Actually, quite a bit. Atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup, can occur throughout the body, not just near the heart. When it occurs in the arteries that lead to your feet, it may be an indicator of an increased risk of heart disease.
The buildup of plaque in arteries leading to the extremities is known as peripheral artery disease (PAD). According to the Cleveland Clinic, some symptoms of PAD include pain the the legs, getting tired easily after exercise, and trouble walking distances. The Mayo Clinic states that sometimes people show no symptoms of PAD, however, many people experience muscle pain and cramping in the legs, usually in the calves.
Other symptoms listed by the Mayo Clinic include leg numbness, one lower leg or foot feeling colder than the other, a change in leg color, changes in hair growth on the legs or feet, shiny skin over the area, leg or foot pain even while resting (in severe cases) and an absent or weak pulse in the feet or legs.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends asking your primary physician to check the pulses in your feet if you show any symptoms of PAD, have a family history of PAD or heart disease, or have a history of smoking. This is a simple test that can be done during a routine examination.
A physician can also do an ankle brachial index, which utilizes blood pressure cuffs and an ultrasound wave to detect a pulse in the region.
While detecting PAD can indeed tell you a lot about your greater cardiovascular risk, the Cleveland Clinic states that healthy individuals who do not smoke and do not have a family history of heart disease generally do not need to be screened, as the test can sometimes give a false positive. However, if you are concerned, talk to a health professional that you trust about your PAD risk, and whether it would be beneficial to check the pulses in your feet.
Even if your leg pain seems relatively minor, a conversation with a health professional is a wise idea, as PAD itself can lead to serious complications, including the loss of a foot or leg, if it worsens to a certain point. It is worth it to have the conversation, for the sake of your overall mobility and health.