February, Heart Health Month, primarily focuses on cardiovascular health, but its impact extends beyond the heart to various parts of the body, including the lower extremities’ vascular system. The intricate connection between heart health and the well-being of our feet is often underestimated. 

The circulatory system, comprising the heart and blood vessels, is vital in maintaining overall health. Blood is pumped from the heart through arteries, reaching every part of the body, including the feet. Understanding this interconnectedness is crucial during Heart Health Month. 

Poor cardiovascular health can manifest in various ways. One is peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD occurs due to plaque buildup in the arteries, restricting blood flow to the legs and feet. This can lead to pain, numbness, open wounds, and ultimately lower limb amputations. Heart Health Month serves as an opportunity to raise awareness about the correlation between heart health and the risk of PAD. 

Regular check-ups and screenings are paramount. See your doctor to help you lower risk factors. Stop smoking. At home, visually inspect your legs and feet. Does hair grow on your feet? Do you have abnormal appearing nails or skin? Are your feet cold? Can you only walk a couple of blocks without stopping for rest? Do you have rest pain or feel better when your legs hang down versus elevating them? Early detection and intervention can prevent complications related to poor circulation in the feet. 

See a podiatrist at least once a year for a comprehensive foot and ankle exam. Higher-risk patients may be seen more often. For example, diabetic patients are at a higher risk of PAD and nerve damage in the feet and legs. This can lead to complications, costing patients their limbs and lives. A hammertoe gets a blister from a tight shoe, and pain is never felt. The blister becomes a wound. There is not enough blood flow to heal the wound. The toe is amputated. 

Often, podiatrists can mitigate these complications with education, lifestyle modifications, shoe and orthotic management, early intervention vascular procedures, and prophylactic surgery. Podiatrists are trained and equipped to work as a team with vascular surgery, infectious disease endocrinology, and other specialists for limb salvage if complications do arise. 

I have sent numerous patients with wounds and poor circulation to vascular surgeons for evaluation. The patients often needed cardiac stenting, and a few required bypass surgeries before the leg could be saved. They return, saying, “Dr. Smith, you saved my life.” 

The foot mirrors the heart In Eastern medicine, there is a deep understanding of the importance of foot health and its connection to our overall wellness. By recognizing and addressing this interdependence, individuals can take proactive steps to ensure comprehensive vascular health, contributing to a life of vitality and well-being. 

Dr. Christian Smith is the owner of uTOEpia Foot and Ankle, PLLC. He is board-certified in foot and ankle surgery. Dr. Smith sees any foot/ankle problems and specializes in pediatric/adult flat foot reconstruction and diabetic/PAD limb salvage. For more information, follow us on Instagram @utoepiafootandankle, visit the website www.utoepia.com, or call 901.730.8300.