Our feet can say a lot about us. The shoes we pick speak volumes about personal style—not to mention the value we place on comfort over practicality. The socks or stockings we slip on may tip people off to circulatory problems—especially if we’re rocking compression wear—not to mention the type of climate we are used to. The surface of our feet can betray our tendency to wear shoes that rub; a black toenail or two may introduce us to the world as “serious runners.”
All of these feet revelations are individual and important. But, as it turns out, there’s one thing our feet can reveal that we should never ignore. Read on to discover the life-saving message your feet and ankles may be sending.
What Your Ankles Can Reveal About Your Future Health
Ok, so when we said your feet could be sending you a message, we really wanted you to look a bit higher—to your ankles. If they seem to be persistently swollen, it could mean you have edema—fluid retention—and that could actually indicate a higher risk for a heart attack.
Yes, you read that correctly. We all fear heart attacks, and most of recognize chest pain, jaw pain, sweating and even nausea as warning signs of a myocardial infarction (when something blocks the flow of blood to your heart.) But how many of us would think to look to our ankles if we’re worried about our hearts? Unfortunately, the answer may be: not enough of us since, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF) our ankle health is a good indication of our heart health. At least, swelling in our ankles is—if edema is present, it means you’re on the path to potentially life-threatening heart disease. Here’s why.
What Causes Heart Disease?
If you have heart disease, it means built up plaque (fatty substances) are interfering with the flow of blood to your heart. And, once blood flow is compromised, a heart attack—where all blood stops getting through—is far more likely.
Long before your body reaches that point, however, your heart may stop functioning at its optimal level. This is the point at which you may notice swelling in your ankles. Why? When your heart isn't working well, the blood that should be flowing from your extremities to your heart gets slowed down. This creates a backup in the veins of your legs and ankles, which in turn causes fluid to build up in your tissues. In addition to swollen ankles, your stomach may begin to swell and you may put on weight as your heart disease progresses. For this reason, you should always see your doctor if you’re dealing with consistently swollen ankles.
Other Conditions Associated with Ankle Swelling
Of course, sometimes your ankles become swollen for reasons that aren’t heart disease. Did you spend a long day standing on the job, or running endless errands, all in less-than-ideal footwear? It wouldn’t be shocking if you ended the day with swollen feet and ankles. Fortunately, this type of swelling has an easy fix: soak those tired feet in warm water, then keep them elevated for a while—the swelling should resolve by the next morning.
Other times, swollen ankles may be a sign of an injury—especially if you’ve recently taken a misstep, slipped, twisted oddly or simply played sports or gone running. While you may be able to walk on a sprained ankle, the swelling you’re noticing in the area could indicate that doing so is exacerbating your injury. Go see your podiatrist for this type of swelling—she can confirm a sprain and rule out a fracture, as well (yes, sometimes you can even walk on a fractured foot or ankle! Only X-rays can confirm or rule out this kind of injury)
So, there you have it: paying attention to your feet and ankles could ultimately save your life. And, even on smaller scales, it could let you know whether you’re working your feet too hard and when it’s time to get into your podiatrist’s office!