Is Losing Toes As You Get Older, Like Former First Lady Barbara Bush, Totally Normal?

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And this little piggy went … bye-bye?

On The Today Show Monday morning, Jenna Bush Hager said that her grandmother, former first lady Barbara Bush, has only four toes on each foot. However, the 91-year-old matriarch was not born this way — Hager says two of her toes actually fell off. How? Apparently just through the natural process of getting older.

The topic of toes came up during a conversation between Kathie Lee Gifford and the 35-year-old author and daughter of former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush about whether or not to ask your houseguests to go barefoot.

“What if you have really, ugly, gnarly feet, and you’ve spent your whole life hiding them?” Gifford joked. “Do want to know the truth?” asked Hager. “My grandma is missing a toe on each foot.”

Between the giggling, Gifford questioned whether or not Bush had ever revealed publicly that her “darling feet” are now sans two toes. “Granny, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said it,” Hager said. “But it happened with age!”

While Hager may have put her foot in her mouth, this disclosure begs the question: Can toes just fall off when you get older?

Actually — yes.

“Sometimes the toes develop dry gangrene and auto-amputate on their own in the elderly,” Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, a podiatric surgeon at City Podiatry in Manhattan and a Vionic Innovation Lab Member, tells Yahoo Beauty.

She explains that as people age, circulation in their lower legs — and especially the feet and toes — decreases. “The tips of the toes have tiny vessels that can become compromised due to not only age, but also overall health status,” continues Sutera. “Diabetes, varicose veins, heart disease, thyroid conditions, history of alcohol abuse, smoking, and even injury may cause loss of circulation that can result in loss of toes.”

One possible side effect is gangrene, a condition that occurs when a lack of blood supply causes tissues to decay. Dry gangrene tends to develop slowly, and is characterized by dry and shriveled skin ranging in color from brown to purplish-blue to black, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Sutera, who is also a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association, adds that someone may even elect to have their toe(s) surgically removed. “Sometimes the toes can become hammered or contracted [a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toes where the toe is bent at the middle joint] and are so painful, they are electively amputated,” she said.

After Monday’s episode of Today had ended, Hager clarified her comments in a statement:

“Today, I spoke about my hilarious, strong, loving grandma’s feet. She is indeed missing a toe or two. At an older age, she had a condition commonly known as hammer toes — toes that are too close together and crowd each other out. We don’t talk about them often because it is mainly her kind heart and witty mind that we focus on!”

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