You notice: Dry, flaky feet
It could be: Thyroid problems, especially if moisturiser doesn’t help. When the thyroid gland (the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck) isn’t working properly, it doesn’t produce thyroid hormones, which control metabolic rate, blood pressure, tissue growth and skeletal and nervous system development. “Thyroid problems cause severe dryness of the skin,” says foot specialist Marlene Reid. “When we see cracking on the feet, or if moisturiser doesn’t improve dryness over a few days, we usually refer patients to their primary doctor to make sure their thyroids are okay.” Brittle toenails can also signal thyroid complications.
You notice: Bald toes
It could be: Arterial disease. If the fuzz on your toes suddenly disappears, it could signal poor blood circulation caused by peripheral arterial disease (PAD) which builds up plaque in the leg arteries. “Signs of PAD can include decreased hair growth on the feet and ankles, purplish toes and thin or shiny skin,” says podiatric surgeon Suzanne Fuchs. Symptoms are subtle, but doctors can check for a healthy pulse in the foot. In severe cases, they may spot PAD on an X-ray. “If I take an X-ray of a broken foot, and I see a hardening of the arteries, 99 per cent of the time the same thing is happening in the heart blood vessels,” says podiatric surgeon Gary A. Pichney.
You notice: Ulcers that don’t heal
It could be: Diabetes. Uncontrolled glucose levels can damage nerves and cause poor circulation, so blood doesn’t reach all areas of the body, including the feet. When blood doesn’t get to a wound caused by, say, irritating shoes, the skin doesn’t heal properly, and that’s how diabetic blisters and ulcers can develop. “Many, many people with diabetes are diagnosed first because of foot problems,” says Reid. Other signs of diabetes may include persistent tingling or numbness of the feet. If you suffer from these foot problems, ask your doctor about getting your blood sugar levels tested.