Clues your feet give about your health, 7-8
7. Red flag: A suddenly enlarged, scary-looking big toe
What it means: Probably gout. Yes, that old-fashioned-sounding disease is still very much around -- and you don't have to be over 65 to get it. Gout is a form of arthritis (also called "gouty arthritis") that's usually caused by too much uric acid, a natural substance. The built-up uric acid forms needlelike crystals, especially at low body temperatures. And the coolest part of the body, farthest from the heart, happens to be the big toe.
"Three-fourths of the time, you wake up with a red-hot swollen toe joint as the first presentation of gout," says podiatrist Andersen.
More clues: Swelling and shiny red or purplish skin -- along with a sensation of heat and pain -- can also occur in the instep, the Achilles tendon, the knees, and the elbows. Anyone can develop gout, though men in their 40s and 50s are especially prone. Women with gout tend to be postmenopausal.
What to do: See a doctor about controlling the causes of gout through diet or medication. A foot specialist can help relieve pain and preserve function.
8. Red flag: Numbness in both feet
What it means: Being unable to "feel" your feet or having a heavy pins-and-needles sensation is a hallmark of peripheral neuropathy, or damage to the peripheral nervous system. That's the body's way of transmitting information from the brain and spinal cord to the entire rest of the body. Peripheral neuropathy has many causes, but the top two are diabetes and alcohol abuse (current or past). Chemotherapy is another common cause.
More clues: The tingling or burning can also appear in hands and may gradually spread up to arms and legs. The reduced sensation may make it feel like you're constantly wearing heavy socks or gloves.
What to do: See a physician to try to pinpoint the cause (especially if alcohol addiction doesn't apply). There's no cure for peripheral neuropathy, but medications from pain relievers to antidepressants can treat symptoms.