Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 2 » Foot - Nail Conditions, Skin Conditions, Joint And Bone Conditions, Circulatory Conditions, Proper Shoe Gear And Selection

Foot - Circulatory Conditions

age aging arterial swelling blood arteries

The circulatory system of the lower extremity can be described in two parts, venous (brings deoxygenated blood from the extremity to the heart) and arterial (brings oxygenated blood from the heart to the extremity). Aging affects both components.

Circulatory complications and treatments are system related. In the case of arterial circulation, healing rate, gangrene, ulcerations, and limb loss can occur. The level and degree of arterial insufficiency is important. With venous insufficiency severe swelling and skin ulceration can occur. Long-standing ulceration is an area for potential infection.

The foot is supplied by two major arteries, the dorsal pedius located on the top of the foot and the posterior tibials located on the inner ankle. These arteries should be palpitated at each general medical exam. When these arteries are difficult to feel, special devices know as dopplers can be used to determine the strength rhythm and pressure of these vessels. In the case of arterisclosrosis, special diagnostic exams can visualize and evaluate the interior of the artery for possible occlusions.

Arterial problems are usually caused by an occlusion or blockage of an artery. Atherosclerosis obliterans is the name given to an age-related condition that causes plaque to form inside the vessel walls of arteries. Although any artery can be affected, it is more common in the lower extremities. Common symptoms in arterial disease are ambulatory muscle cramps or pain relieved by rest, coldness, numbness, pain felt while at rest, and skin color changes. Muscle cramps induced by activity and relieved by rest are referred to as intermittent claudication. Common in the calf muscle, this is believed to be caused by decreased oxygen to the muscle.

Rest pain alone is a most likely arterial in nature. When the foot is deprived of blood and oxygen for too long a period, cells start to die. Some elderly persons also suffer from nerve damage or neuropathy and cannot feel the initial symptom of pain. In these individuals, gangrene may be the first sign of trouble. All symptoms should be evaluated for diagnosis and cause.

Veins contain valves to assist in the movement of blood against gravity. Venous problems are often due the incompetence of these valves, a natural process of aging. This incompetence can cause mild to severe swelling in the legs and feet due to the pooling of blood, making ambulation and the wearing of shoes difficult. Longstanding and severe swelling can lead to skin discolorations and ulcerations. Elevating legs, such as in bed, helps in eliminating the fluid and can decrease the swelling.

Special compression stockings can be helpful in "squeezing" the fluid out of the leg and acting as a pump to compensate for the loss of valve function. Older persons sometimes find this stocking difficult to use due to the tightness of the device, arthritis in the fingers, and difficulty in bending. Most companies make compression stockings in a variety of styles and designs and the individual should be fitted and evaluated for the most appropriate one.

Standing, sitting, and walking can increase the amount of swelling. Swelling can occur gradually over the course of a day. Tight shoes, stockings, socks, or garters can cause a painful band and strangulation of the tissue or limb. All socks, shoes, stockings, and garters should be checked periodically for appropriate fit. Elastic bands should be avoided in these individuals.

Individuals with diabetes are more prone to circulatory and neurological problems than the general population. Increased disease duration and severity will affect the presentation of the foot complications. Neurological sensation is a common loss in the diabetic. A simple test determining the ability of one to feel certain pressure thresholds can crudely determine the extent or presence of a neuropathy. Depending on the results of this test, circulatory status, previous foot conditions, and deformities, appropriate follow-up visits can be scheduled. Diabetic people should have their feet thoroughly examined every one to twelve months, depending on their risk categories.

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