Medical News Today: Causes of yellow feet

There are many reasons why a person may have yellow feet, most of which are not a cause for concern. Possible causes include jaundice, anemia, and calluses.

People with yellow feet may also have areas of thick, waxy, or dry skin. In some cases, only the toes or the sole is yellow, while in others, the entire foot is this color.

There may be other symptoms, depending on the underlying cause. These may include fatigue, itching, or sensitivity to cold temperatures. The treatment for yellow feet depends on what is causing this symptom.

Read on to learn more about six possible causes of yellow feet.

1. Jaundice

An older man with jaundice from hepatic failure. Image credit: James Heilman, MD, 2012
A person with jaundice may experience yellowing of the skin.
Image credit: James Heilman, MD, 2012

Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.

It develops when too much bilirubin, which is a waste product from the breakdown of red blood cells, builds up in the body.

People with jaundice may have yellow feet, but they will have yellow skin on other parts of the body as well.

They may also experience itching, which can sometimes be intense.

Jaundice can be a symptom of:

  • a viral infection, such as hepatitis A, B, or C
  • certain medications, such as penicillin, oral contraceptives, or anabolic steroids
  • some herbal supplements
  • gallbladder problems
  • liver failure

The treatment for jaundice involves addressing the underlying cause. People who have jaundice should see their doctor for tests and treatment.


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2. Anemia

a hand showing skin paleness. Image credit: James Heilman, MD, 2010
Anemia is a symptom of iron deficiency.
Image credit: James Heilman, MD, 2010

According to the American Society of Hematology, pale or yellow skin is a symptom of iron deficiency anemia.

Other symptoms include:

People with iron deficiency anemia typically require iron supplements to increase the levels of this mineral in their blood. They may also need to make other dietary changes.

If blood loss is contributing to low iron levels, other treatments may be necessary. For example, people who experience heavy menstrual periods can often benefit from oral contraceptives or medical procedures.

3. Calluses

calluses on the foot. Image credit: Andrew Bossi, 2007
Calluses are most commonly found on the feet.
Image credit: Andrew Bossi, 2007

A callus is a thick, hard area of skin. It can often appear as a yellow, flaky, or waxy patch. Calluses develop on the skin as a response to pressure or friction.

Calluses typically form on the feet, usually as a result of a person wearing ill-fitting shoes or spending long periods standing or walking.

Calluses are not a cause for concern, and they do not generally require treatment.

If they are bothersome, however, people can usually relieve discomfort and remove the callus by:

  • wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes
  • using protective shoe inserts or pads
  • softening the callus in warm, soapy water
  • filing down thick skin with a pumice stone
  • applying callus-removing medication to the foot


4. Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud's disease on the fingers. Image credit: WaltFletcher, 2012
Raynaud’s disease can cause the fingers or toes to turn white or yellow.
Image credit: WaltFletcher, 2012

If only the toes, rather than the entire foot, appear yellow, then this discoloration may be due to Raynaud’s disease, which some people call Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Raynaud’s disease affects up to 10% of the population, and it causes the fingers and toes to feel unusually numb and cold in low temperatures or in response to emotional stress. Other sensations include prickling or tingling.

Under these circumstances, the skin will generally turn white, which can sometimes appear yellow. In time, the skin turns blue and then red, which is an exaggerated version of the body’s normal response to cold.

Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and the presence of other medical conditions. People with mild symptoms can usually manage them by wearing thick gloves and socks, in addition to reducing stress.

More severe forms of Raynaud’s disease may require medication or nerve surgery.

5. High doses of turmeric

turmeric in powder form and capsules.
Research has shown that high doses of turmeric can cause yellow discoloration of the soles.

Turmeric is a mild spice that people often use medicinally for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The most active compound in turmeric, curcumin, is a bright yellow pigment.

At least one case study describes yellow discoloration of the soles of the feet due to high doses of turmeric root. The woman in the study took 500 mg of turmeric root daily for 4 months. After she stopped taking the capsules, the symptoms resolved.

The study authors also note that the topical application of turmeric can discolor the skin.


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6. Carotenemia

Carotenemia results from high levels of carotenoids in the blood. Carotenoids are yellow-red pigments in fruits and vegetables. The most well-known carotenoid is beta carotene, which occurs naturally in carrots. The body converts beta carotene to vitamin A.

When a person consumes normal amounts of carotenoids, these pigments leave the body in the urine, sweat, and stool.

However, high intakes of more than 30 milligrams (mg) per day can result in the skin taking on a yellow tinge that commonly affects the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands.

Foods high in carotenoids include:

Medical conditions that affect the body’s ability to remove carotenoids also contribute to carotenemia. These include:

People who develop carotenemia from consuming too many carotenoid-rich foods typically notice that their yellow skin returns to normal once they reduce their intake of these foods.

People who get carotenemia due to an underlying medical condition may notice an improvement in carotenemia symptoms once they control the condition with medications, lifestyle changes, and other treatments.

When to see a doctor

Yellow skin can sometimes indicate a more serious medical issue, especially if the discoloration appears on more than one area of the body.

People should see their doctor if they experience the following symptoms in addition to yellow skin:

  • black stool
  • blood in the stool or vomit
  • chest pain
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • headaches
  • severe stomach pains
  • shortness of breath
  • unexplained bruising or bleeding

If yellow feet are the only symptom that a person has, the cause is most likely to be a callus or a high intake of carotenoid-containing foods. A podiatrist can treat calluses and other foot problems, while a dietician can help a person plan a more balanced diet.


Takeaway

The outlook for people with yellow feet depends on what causes this discoloration. In most cases, the feet will return to their normal color once the person addresses the underlying condition.

As yellow feet may sometimes indicate a more serious issue, it is important that a person sees a doctor promptly if they have any concerns or experience other symptoms.

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