What causes burning feet?

Burning feet can be caused by nerve or skin damage in the feet and surrounding tissues. Burns from extreme heat or chemicals and exposure to poisonous substances may damage the nerves in the skin, resulting in burning feet.

Damage to the peripheral nerves (peripheral neuropathy) can also cause a sensation of feet burning. Peripheral neuropathy may be due to specific diseases or conditions, such as diabetes or alcoholism, that can affect nerve health, or it may have no known cause.

Physical causes of burning feet

Burning feet may be due to physical causes including:

  • Burns, including sunburn
  • Certain medications, including some cancer chemotherapy drugs
  • Exposure to cold
  • Exposure to toxic or poisonous compounds, such as lead or mercury
  • Foot trauma or injury
  • Injury to nerve
  • Peripheral neuropathy (disorder that causes dysfunction of nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord)
  • Pressure on nerve or nerve entrapment

Diseases or disorders causing burning feet

Foot burning sensation may be due to a specific, underlying disease or disorder that causes nerve damage including:

  • Alcoholic neuropathy (nerve damage associated with excessive alcohol consumption)
  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome (autoimmune nerve disorder)
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and its treatment
  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing or blockage of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)
  • Shingles (reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which remains in the body in an inactive state following chickenpox)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)
  • Vitamin deficiency, especially vitamin B12 and folate

Serious or life-threatening causes of burning feet

In some cases, burning feet may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of burning feet

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your burning feet including:

  • How long have you felt the burning feet?
  • Where do you feel the burning sensation?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of burning feet?

Because burning feet can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Brain damage (if the sensation of feet burning is due to stroke)
  • Loss of limb
  • Permanent nerve damage

References:

NINDS paresthesia information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/paresthesia/paresthesia.htm. Accessed April 30, 2011.

Peripheral neuropathy fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/peripheralneuropathy/detail_peripheralneuropathy.htm. Accessed April 30, 2011.

INTRODUCTION

What are burning feet?

Burning feet can result from a number of causes, including damage to nerves in the feet from exposure to extreme heat or cold or toxic substances. Burning feet might also result from a circulation problem that impairs blood flow to the feet, such as peripheral artery disease, a foot injury, or extensive walking or running.... Read more about burning feetintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with burning feet?

Burning feet may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the feet can also affect other body systems.... Read more about burning feetsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves