3 Medical Conditions Your Podiatrist May Notice Before Another Doctor

If you are getting ready for your first podiatrist appointment, it's important to take some time to write down any and all symptoms you have been experiencing so you can share them with your podiatrist. Even though he or she will be able to treat your symptoms, sometimes referrals to other medical professionals are necessary to diagnose and treat the root cause of problems in the feet. Here are several examples.

Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease is when your arteries are made narrow from the buildup of plaque. This causes your feet and legs to not get enough oxygen and blood, which can lead to coldness, tingling, numbness, pain, and discomfort. Severe peripheral artery disease can cause cramps in your feet, pain and tingling in your toes, thickened toenails, and discoloration in the skin of your feet.

Peripheral artery disease can caused by age, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or a insufficient exercise. Treatment for peripheral artery disease can include lifestyle changes, medication, and/or surgery. If your podiatrist suspects that you have peripheral artery disease, he or she will do a ankle-brachial index test on you. This test compares the blood pressure results in your ankle and your arm. If they are not the same, it means that you have peripheral artery disease and your podiatrist will refer you to a cardiologist.


Syringomyelia occurs when a cyst in the spinal cord fills with cerebrospinal fluid. The fluid-filled cyst can put pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves, which can cause tingling and numbness in the feet and hands, loss of sensation to heat and cold, and diminished muscular strength in the legs and arms. Syringomyelia can eventually lead to paralysis if cerebrospinal fluid continues to fill into the cyst and it's not treated properly.

The cysts can result from a previous spinal cord injury, Chiari 1 malformation, meningitis, tethered spinal cord, or a tumor on the spine. Syringomyelia is diagnosed through imaging from an MRI or a CT scan. Your podiatrist will refer you to a neurologist or a neurosurgeon if he or she suspects that you have syringomyelia. Treatment for syringomyelia involves placement of a shunt to drain the fluid-filled cavity; however, sometimes there can be lasting effects on the feet due to irreversible nerve damage. Fortunately, your podiatrist will be able to recommend proper footwear and treatments that can help you overcome the lasting effects of syringomyelia.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune diseases that causes inflammation and pain in the joints. More than 90% of people with this condition feel it in their feet and ankles. The joints in the toes and ankles swell and become painful, making it difficult to walk and/or wear shoes.

Autoimmune diseases cause the body's defenses to infection to attack tissues and cells instead. In rheumatoid arthritis, the attack is on the synovium, which is the lining that covers joints. Normally, this lining gets lubricated, which makes the joint easier to move. However, people with rheumatoid arthritis have linings that are overactive, which results in inflammation and pain. Eventually, the lining can get destroyed and cause the ligaments to weaken, which can lead to deformities in the feet such as hammer toe.

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known, but it can be treated with medication, steroid injections, and orthotics. Your podiatrist will refer you to a rheumatologist for a thorough evaluation. He or she can also fit you with orthotic devices, which are shoe inserts to minimize the pressure of the swollen joints in your foot. This is necessary to prevent calluses from forming on your feet.