If You Feel This in Your Feet, Your Heart Attack Risk Skyrockets
It's associated with a 50 percent increase in heart attacks, experts warn.
Every 36 seconds, someone dies from cardiovascular disease in America, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This comes to roughly 660,000 heart-related deaths per year, making heart disease accountable for one in every four mortalities. Yet despite its pervasiveness, many of us would still fail to recognize the signs of a serious heart problem—especially in its earlier stages. Now, experts are sounding the alarm about one particular heart health symptom, which they say you may notice in your feet. Read on to learn what subtle symptom means it's time for a heart screening, and what other major condition it may suggest.
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If you experience pain, tingling, or burning in your feet, have your heart checked.
Foot pain can be common—especially after exercising or spending the workday day on your feet—but experts say that if there's no known explanation, you should have it checked by a doctor. This is especially true if the pain is accompanied by a tingling or burning sensation, which experts warn could be a form of small fiber neuropathy (SFN), a condition which affects the peripheral nervous system.
"Small fiber neuropathy is a condition characterized by severe pain attacks that typically begin in the feet or hands," says MedlinePlus, a branch of the U.S. government's National Library of Medicine. "The attacks usually consist of pain described as stabbing or burning, or abnormal skin sensations such as tingling or itchiness. In some individuals, the pain is more severe during times of rest or at night," their experts write.
It's especially important to take note of this symptom because of its known link to heart health issues. In fact, a 2021 study published in the journal Neurology found that roughly 50 percent of study subjects with SFN had a heart attack during the six year study period. "There is something diabolic about small fiber neuropathy in that it has a very strong association with heart disease and heart attacks," Christopher Klein, MD, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic and co-author of the study told U.S. News & World Report.
The symptom is also associated with higher incidence of diabetes.
The researchers also established a link between SFN and diabetes. They concluded that people with the condition are more likely to be obese than those without it, and roughly 50 percent of patients with neuropathy had diabetes, compared to 22 percent of those without it.
In fact, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews, noticing this foot sensation may help lead to early diabetes diagnosis. "Recent studies demonstrated significant abnormalities in the small fibers in subjects with impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes… suggesting that the earliest nerve fiber damage is to the small fibers," the researchers wrote. A 2015 study published in the journal Angiology similarly concluded that assessments of "abnormalities in small nerve fibers may enable timely diagnosis" of diabetes.
Your doctor may not think to ask about this symptom.
Despite its direct association with both heart health and diabetes, experts say that small fiber neuropathy still goes under-recognized by healthcare professionals.
"Doctors, and especially neurologists, are more aware of this condition than they were 10 years ago," Brian Callaghan, MD, co-author of the Neurology study, told U.S. News. However, "doctors often forget to ask about these symptoms, so patients should definitely make their doctors aware," he adds.
That's why, if you do notice any symptoms associated with SFN, it's essential to be proactive in mentioning them to your doctor or healthcare provider. By initiating the conversation, you may be able to avoid complications of the condition.
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Look out for these other symptoms of small fiber neuropathy.
Pain, tingling or burning in the feet or hands is the most frequently observed early symptom of small fiber neuropathy. Some people with the condition "cannot feel pain that is concentrated in a very small area, such as the prick of a pin. However, they have an increased sensitivity to pain in general (hyperalgesia) and experience pain from stimulation that typically does not cause pain (allodynia)," says MedlinePlus.
Additionally, there are several other symptoms that you may go along with these sensations. According to Medical News Today, some people with SFN experience hypersensitivity to touch and temperature changes, bladder control issues, constipation, numbness in the feet, legs, or lower stomach, abnormal sweating, skin discoloration, low blood pressure, rapid or irregular heartbeat, or dry eyes and mouth.
Speak with your doctor if you notice signs of small fiber neuropathy, and be sure to ask whether heart health or diabetes screenings may be right for you.