Hypertension and feet

May 17, 2021

What is hypertension?

Hypertension (also known as high blood pressure) is a common condition in which the force of the blood against the artery walls is too high and may lead to long-term complications such as heart disease and stroke.

Hypertension is usually defined as a blood pressure above 140/90 and is considered severe when the pressure rises consistently over 180/120. A person may have hypertension without any obvious symptoms, which is why it is good to note some early signs that may present in your feet.

How does hypertension cause foot problems?

Prolonged hypertension can lead to various conditions such as atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque in the artery walls), decreased circulation and peripheral arterial disease. This decrease in circulation to the feet can lead to tell-tale signs that something may be wrong.

Signs of high blood pressure in the lower extremities.

Most signs and symptoms relate directly to poor circulation. As the blood flow to your feet decreases, so does the vital oxygen supply that is transported to this area. Symptoms of poor circulation may include:

  • Cramping in the feet and legs, particularly with exercise
  • Sores on the feet or legs
  • Wounds on the legs and feet take longer to heal
  • Changes in colour to the feet
  • Changes in temperature to the feet (unusually cold to the touch)
  • Loss of hair on the feet and legs
  • Absence of normal skin tone
  • Burning sensation in feet (due to weakened pulse)
  • Numbness and tingling in feet
  • Swelling to feet and ankles

How can your podiatrist help?

Your podiatrist can help identify hypertension and its associated complications in several ways. The simplest is a physical examination that looks for the above signs. The next step is to test the pedal pulses. The two main arteries in your feet can be easily palpated by your podiatrist and can be physically assessed or assessed with the use of a doppler to hear signs of any abnormal pulse rhythm, sound, or timing.

The next step is assessing the pressure of blood flow into the feet with a diagnostic test called the ankle brachial index. This test uses blood pressure cuffs on your arm and leg, in combination with a doppler probe, to listen to the pulse in the foot and assess the differences in pressure between the arm and feet.

If any abnormalities are noted, your podiatrist may refer you to your primary care physician for further evaluation and treatment.

Why is this all so important?

If high blood pressure is ignored or left untreated, it can lead to various heart problems. Ultimately you may develop vascular weakness, blood clots, plaque build up and many other conditions. 

If any of this sounds familiar or concerns you, please chat to your podiatrist to find out how we can assist you today.