What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure is a disease that causes blood to flow through your arteries at an elevated level than what is normal. It is also commonly known as hypertension. Patients with high blood pressure may also experience atherosclerosis, which causes a buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries' walls, leading to the onset of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) that affects the lower limbs.
PAD (previously referred to as peripheral vascular disease) leads to loss of circulation in the feet. This can cause patients to not know if they've scraped or bruised their feet, which in turn, can lower the rate of healing and increase the risk of infection. If left untreated, this can lead to the formation of foot ulcers (open sores) and, in some cases, amputation.
Monitoring your blood pressure is part of a podiatric physician's treatment plan, especially if you have high blood pressure or are experiencing a loss of sensation in your feet. Your podiatrist may recommend medication to increase circulation in the leg, along with physical activity and frequent foot care and checkups.
What Are the Causes of High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure can be caused by:
- a sedentary lifestyle
- high levels of cholesterol
- diets high in sodium
- too much alcohol
- sleep apnea
- age—as you age, blood vessels lose their elasticity, leading to an increase in pressure
- race—African Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure than others in the US
- kidney disease
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure in Your Feet
According to the American Heart Association, the normal blood pressure range should be lower than 120 mm Hg for systolic pressure and less than 80 mm Hg for diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure measures the pressure in your heart when blood is being pumped out of the heart and actively beating. Diastolic pressure measures the pressure in your heart when it's filling back up again with blood in between heartbeats.
Diagnosis of high blood pressure can be broken down into three stages:
- Stage 1 hypertension—when levels of systolic pressure are between 130 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic pressure are between 80 to 89 mm Hg
- Stage 2 hypertension—systolic pressure is 140 mm Hg or higher, or diastolic pressure is 90 mm Hg or higher
- Hypertensive crisis—when systolic pressure is higher than 180 mm Hg and/or diastolic is higher than 120 mm Hg
For most patients, high blood pressure offers no symptoms until it is too late. Monitoring your blood pressure levels regularly is the first step in preventing and managing high blood pressure. If left untreated, it has the ability to lead to the onset of coronary heart disease and increase your chances of a stroke. For some patients, high blood pressure may also be responsible for the following symptoms in your feet:
- redness and swelling
- loss of sensation
- cramping in the calves and feet, especially after physical activity
- foot ulcers on the bottom of the feet
- loss of leg hair
What to Expect During a High Blood Pressure Foot Treatment
If you're experiencing any of the above symptoms of high blood pressure in your lower limbs and feet, make an appointment with your podiatrist as soon as possible. If it's your first appointment, you might be wondering what to expect. Your trained podiatric physician will begin by taking a complete health history that includes your dietary and lifestyle choices, as well as a physical examination and blood pressure check.
Depending on your symptoms, you may also require an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test to determine the presence of peripheral arterial disease. A personalized treatment approach may involve other physicians such as cardiologists, dietitians, and vascular surgeons, and can include:
- changes to your diet
- an increase in daily physical exercise
- effective stress management