Ever looked down and thought, “Man, what the hell is going on with my feet?” Most of us have had a moment (or two or three) when the state of our toes has sent us running straight for the nail salon to get a pedicure — but if there is some seriously funky stuff going on down there, it could be your body trying to tell you about what’s going on inside.
Your feet can actual be a crucial window into your overall health. Here are five things your feet could be telling you — and that you should definitely not ignore.
1. Swollen feet
While swollen feet can merely be a sign you’ve been standing too long, sitting too long or your shoes are too tight, they can also potentially be a sign of a serious health problem. If the swelling in your feet doesn’t subside after a couple of days, it could be time to see a doctor. Because feet are so far away from the heart, they are often the first part of the body to show that you may have blood circulation problems. According to MedicineNet, swollen feet can point to an excess buildup of fluid in the body as a result of having heart disease or even liver or kidney failure. Joint diseases (like arthritis) can also cause your feet to swell.
2. Cold feet and toes
While cold feet or toes could just mean you haven’t paid your heating bill this month, it could also be a sign of something worse. Cold feet, according to Mother Nature Network, can be a sign of poor blood circulation, which could be caused by an overly sedentary lifestyle. Poor circulation — even for several hours — could result in a blood clot. If getting off your tush for a while doesn’t do the trick, you could have an underactive thyroid, Raynaud’s disease (caused by spasms in the blood vessels) or peripheral neuropathy, which is a sign of underlying nerve damage. If you have persistent cold feet, get them checked out with a doctor.
3. Smelly feet
While you might think your underarms have more sweat glands than anywhere else, it’s actually your feet that outsweat the rest of your body. A buildup of sweat can often result in stinky feet. Perpetually cheesy smelling footsies can mean you have hyperhidrosis, according to NHS Choices. While this condition isn’t dangerous, it can be embarrassing. If sweat is causing your feet to stink, you need to be more cautious about cleaning them: Use soap and water and then let the feet air-dry. Also be sure to change your socks daily — you can buy special socks that absorb sweat. Try using talcum or baby powder to keep your feet dry. But stinky feet can also be a sign of a fungal infection, so get them checked out with your doc if none of the other tips result in fresher smelling feet.
4. Discolored or misshapen toenails
Lucky and rare is the person with perfectly pretty toenails, no matter how many pedicures they get. But while toenails may not always be perfect, they should appear pink, the nail should grow up against the toe and they shouldn’t be “sunken” or “hollow” looking. If they are, that could be a sign that you have an iron deficiency or anaemia (your body isn’t producing enough red blood cells). According to the MyDr website, toenails that are discolored (usually yellowish) or grown away from the nail bed could be a sign of a fungal infection. Nail deformities can also be caused by warts, tumors under the nail, trauma, poor circulation and skin conditions like psoriasis.
If you have any of these conditions, see a podiatrist.
5. Bluish feet
A bluish tint to the feet (easier to see in Caucasians) can be one of the most serious signs of a health problem. According to Healthline, bluish skin discoloration is called cyanosis and it means your blood isn’t getting enough oxygen — and this could be a sign of a chronic health problem with your blood, lungs or heart. In the worst case scenario, blue feet could mean you’re close to having a heart attack. Do not ignore blue feet — see your doctor as soon as possible. If the blue feet are accompanied by a shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing up mucus or a fever, you should seek emergency medical attention.
6. Tingly feet
Numbness and tingling in the feet or toes, which can often be worse at night, can be a sign of key vitamin deficiencies, says Dr. Arielle Levitan. Tingling or numbness in your feet can be a clue that you need more B12 or folic acid, or can be a sign of high blood sugars or diabetes, so please get tested. Tingling and feelings of restless in the feet or legs that prevent you from sleeping (restless leg syndrome) can be “associated with a deficiency of iron or low total body iron stores,” says Dr. Levitan.
7. Red, white and blue feet
Feet the color of the American flag is not patriotic — it means you could have Raynaud’s disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Feet that are splotchy and turn red, then white, then blue, then red or some combination of that, could be a sign that the small arteries running to your feet have narrowed and they’re not getting enough oxygen. This can also be accompanied by a numbness or prickly feeling in your feet. While Raynaud’s disease isn’t serious, it can be annoying — try warming your feet to improve blood circulation. If it continues or worsens in severity, see your doctor.
Originally published June 2015. Updated July 2017.