High blood pressure (referred to as hypertension) has become a very common medical condition affecting patients of all ages. Patients are often diagnosed by their doctor who may prescribe a number of treatments for reducing the blood pressure levels. This may include lifestyle changes and/or medication. Hypertension brings with it a number of potential health issues however most people tend to overlook the effect that blood pressure has on the lower limbs. Often, symptoms identified in the lower limbs by podiatrists may help the diagnosis of hypertension and thus should not be ignored.
What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure refers to the pressure exerted on blood as it is being pumped throughout the blood vessels to different regions of the body. There needs to be sufficient pressure to ensure enough oxygenated blood arrives at vital organs to achieve optimal functioning. Currently, for the average person a blood pressure reading of around 120/80 is considered ‘normal’ although that can vary. High blood pressure is the situation where the pressure rises and stays above the ‘normal’ level. This may related to many conditions including stress and diabetes. However more often than not, longstanding high blood pressure is associated with atherosclerosis (thickening of artery walls due to build-up of fatty plaque). Atherosclerosis is important because it can directly lead to reduced blood flow and potentially peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
Consequences of high blood pressure
If high blood pressure persists in the body, it may lead to reduced blood circulation in the lower limbs. A reduction in the availability of oxygen rich blood can become a serious problem considering the complexity and importance of the lower limbs to every day life. Reduced blood flow can bring about some of the following symptoms:
- Cramping in the feet and legs, usually after walking or exercise.
- Changes in the temperature of the feet usually resulting in colder feet and toes.
- Changes in colour of the legs and feet, often appearing paler or bluish.
- Loss of hair on the surface of the skin.
- Swollen feet and legs.
- Burning sensation in the feet.
- Ulcers and sores that are slow to heal.
When to seek help
It is important to seek guidance and advice from your podiatrist if you experience any of the above symptoms. Similarly, if you have been recently diagnosed with hypertension it is vital to mention this to your podiatrist as they can investigate whether the high blood pressure has affected the blood circulation to the lower limbs and thus help you avoid complications that may arise as a result.
If you or anyone else you know suffers from high blood pressure, a visit to the podiatrist for a thorough assessment may help you avoid any further complications in the future.
Dr Anel Kapur (Podiatrist)