A burning sensation in the feet is a common problem. There are many reasons for this sensation. A short-lived burning sensation in the feet could be caused by excessive strain on the feet that is a result of standing or walking for long periods of time. In such cases, the burning sensation may be relieved easily by resting, a gentle massage of the feet or by soaking the feet in warm water.
Causes of Burning Feet Sensation
When the burning sensation in the feet is persistent, and cannot be attributed to strenuous physical activity, then a disease should be considered as a possible cause. There are many pathological conditions that may have burning feet as one of the symptoms. Some of these conditions could be serious in nature. Therefore, medical attention is necessary to identify the exact cause and commence with the most approriate treatment.
Fungal infections of the feet
The skin in any region of the body can get fungal infections. However, the skin in some parts of the body is more prone to getting fungal infections than the skin in other regions of the body. The skin on the feet (especially the skin between the toes) is a common site of fungal skin infection. Fungal infection of the foot is commonly known as athlete’s foot (technically referred to as tinea pedis).
The type of fungus responsible for fungal infection of the foot is known as dermatophyte. Tinea pedis is a superficial skin infection that has a characteristic ring-like lesion. Due to this peculiar circular appearance of the lesion, this type of fungal infection is also known as ringworm infection. However, the infection is caused by a fungus, not a worm. The skin that covers the edges of the feet and the area between the toes is most susceptible to getting ringworm infection.
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Small fluid-filled vesicles may appear in the affected skin area. Itching of the infected skin area is also a common symptom. A burning sensation in the feet may also be present. Fungal infections of the feet are more likely to occur in people who do not use footwear in public washrooms or walk barefoot on soil. People who wear closed shoes for long periods of time are also susceptible to getting tinea pedis.
Even when the characteristic ring-shaped lesions are not present, the infected skin may have cracks that and peeling skin. A doctor may also conduct a microscopic examination of skin scrapings from the foot in order to confirm the presence of fungal infection. Topical or oral antifungal creams are used to treat tinea pedis. These medications may be obtained over-the-counter or with a prescription.
Diabetic neuropathy is a common and serious pathological cause of burning feet. Diabetes mellitus is a very common disease across the world. In diabetes, lack of insulin production or impaired insulin function leads to an abnormal increase in the blood glucose level. The elevated glucose level in the blood causes widespread tissue damage in the body.
Nerves and blood vessels are commonly damaged in diabetes, leading to a host of symptoms, including burning feet. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that is linked to sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and genetic predisposition. Modern lifestyle is causing a worldwide increase in the incidence of diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy usually develops in chronic sufferers of diabetes.
As the nerves in the limbs get damaged over time, a burning sensation may occur in the feet. Severe pain and numbness may also accompany the burning sensation in the feet. Diagnosis of diabetes requires determination of blood glucose and insulin levels. A doctor may also test the nerve functions in specific areas of the body, such as the limbs.
Currently, there is no permanent cure for diabetes. However, the disease can be managed through administration of insulin and lifestyle changes. It is important to note that nerve damage in diabetes may be irreversible.
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Deficiency of B-vitamins
Burning feet sensation may also occur due to deficiency of vitamins B6 and B12. Deficiencies of these B-vitamins has been associated with nerve dysfunction. Deficiency of vitamin B12 is more likely to cause burning feet sensation due to degeneration of the nerves. Anemia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency may also contribute to peripheral neuropathy and burning feet sensation.
Prolonged deficiency of these vitamins may also lead to irreversible nerve damage. The major sources of vitamin B12 are animal products. Therefore, vitamin B12 deficiency is more likely to occur in vegans or strict vegetarians. Vitamin B6, on the other hand, is present in plant products such as nuts, vegetables, and grains. Vitamin deficiencies are more likely to occur in alcoholics, elderly people, and people with chronic diseases of the digestive tract.
Diagnosis of B-vitamin deficiencies is based on examination of symptoms and blood tests. If a B-vitamin deficiency is suspected, a doctor may prescribe B-vitamin supplementation even before the diagnostic test results arrive. If the burning feet symptom improves upon B-vitamin supplementation, then the cause is most likely a B-vitamin deficiency.
Hormonal problems in women can cause burning feet sensations. Hormonal fluctuations during menopause frequently cause symptoms such as hot flashes. The exact nature of hot flashes is not clearly understood. The sensation of burning feet may be a variation of the hot flashes experienced during menopause.
The burning feet sensation in menopause could be due to hypertension, transient and sudden changes in cutaneous blood flow, or neurological problems. Hypothyroidism is another common condition that can cause burning sensation in the feet. Untreated, severe hypothyroidism can cause abnormal sensations known as paresthesias. Hypothyroidism is a likely cause of burning feet sensation in menopausal women.
Thyroid function tests are used to diagnose hypothyroidism. Treatment may require hormone replacement therapy. However, some cases of hypothyroidism are transient and self-resolving.
Narrowing of leg arteries
A burning sensation in the feet may result from a narrowing of the arteries that run through the legs. A common cause of narrowing of the arteries is atherosclerosis, which is characterized by a buildup of fatty plaques within the lumen of the blood vessels. Over a long period of time, the arterial lumen may become completely blocked, leading to tissue injury.
The reduced blood supply and tissue injury in the legs may cause pain, muscle weakness, and burning sensation in the feet. These symptoms may worsen when lying down or while walking. Hanging the leg over the edge of the bed may help in relieving the symptoms by promoting blood flow. A diagnosis of narrow arteries requires imaging tests such as CT scan, ultrasound, and MRI.
Statins and aspirin are used to treat the narrowing of the arteries. A bypass surgery to reroute blood circulation in the legs may be required in some cases. In rare cases, amputation of foot or lower leg may also become necessary.