If You Notice This While Resting Your Feet, Get Your Heart Checked

This subtle symptom could signal a serious problem.

Most people associate heart problems with chest pain, but experts say that your heart health can be a whole body issue. When your circulatory system suffers as the result of a heart health problem it can affect body parts as far away as your feet. In fact, there's one particular foot symptom that you may notice when you're at rest, and experts say that if it happens to you, it's time to get your heart screened for peripheral artery disease. Read on to learn which foot symptom could spell heart trouble, and what you can do to minimize your risk.

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If you notice numbness in your feet, get your heart checked.

A close up of a man checking his feet

Some heart health symptoms can extend to your farthest extremities, affecting your hands and more often, your feet. In particular, peripheral artery disease (PAD) is known to cause "numbness in your legs or feet when you are at rest," according to MedlinePlus, part of the U.S. government's National Library of Medicine.

Peripheral artery disease occurs when the blood vessels that bring blood from the heart to other parts of the body begin to narrow, putting you at "much higher risk for heart attack," according to the site. This is often the result of cholesterol and other fatty plaque building up on the interior walls of your arteries, which can block blood from circulating properly.

RELATED: If You Notice This When You Cough, It May Be a Sign of Heart Failure.

Look out for these other signs of PAD.

Pregnant woman with swollen feet and leg pain.

Several other symptoms may tip you off to having peripheral artery disease—many of which affect the feet. Besides numbness in your feet while at rest, you may also notice that your legs or feet become weak, pale in color, cool to the touch, or shiny.  According to the Mayo Clinic, some PAD patients experience slower growth in their toenails or leg hair, have a weaker pulse in their legs or feet, develop sores that won't heal, or experience discoloration of the legs or feet.

Additionally, you may develop "painful cramping in one or both of your hips, thighs or calf muscles after certain activities, such as walking or climbing stairs," says the Clinic. Some men with PAD develop erectile dysfunction as a result of poor circulation.

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PAD puts you at higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

Man with high blood pressure experiencing chest pain while sitting at home during the day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having peripheral artery disease puts you at higher risk of developing coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease, which could ultimately lead to a heart attack or stroke.

You can help lower that risk by altering your diet, quitting smoking, controlling high blood pressure, as well as managing your cholesterol and blood sugar. "If you have PAD, participating in supervised exercise training programs can improve and prolong your ability to walk longer distances," adds the health authority.

Certain medications may also help to treat PAD and lower your risk of heart attack or stroke. "Your doctor may recommend that you take aspirin or other similar anti-platelet medicines to prevent serious complications from PAD and associated atherosclerosis. You may also need to take medicine to reduce your blood cholesterol," the CDC says.

There may be other explanations for numbness in your feet.

Man talking to doctor about being screened for diabetes

While it's wise to be screened for PAD if you notice numbness in your feet, there may be other underlying causes that your doctor should also rule out. For instance, the Cleveland Clinic notes that up to 70 percent of diabetes patients experience this type of peripheral neuropathy in the feet, as do up to 40 percent of people who have undergone chemotherapy, and 30 percent of people living with HIV. Certain autoimmune disorders, kidney or liver disorders, tumors, and medication side effects can also cause a "pins and needles" sensation in the feet.

If you notice numbness in that area while resting, speak with your doctor about the full range of possible underlying causes.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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