Hair Loss on Legs
Have you noticed hair loss on your legs? If you have, you might assume it’s a normal sign of aging. That’s understandable: If you don’t feel any different or notice other symptoms, hair loss is easy to brush off without considering potential underlying issues that could be more serious.
Even if you have no other detectable symptoms, you may have developed a condition known as peripheral artery disease (PAD), which most commonly impacts the arteries in the legs. PAD causes the arteries to harden as plaque attaches to the artery walls, which restricts blood flow to your legs, leading to hair loss: In order for hair to grow, there must be a consistent blood supply.
PAD has many warning signs, but diminished hair growth on the legs is a common and often overlooked symptom. Although some people may not view losing leg hair as a problem, it may indicate a significant health issue when occurring in conjunction with other symptoms.
How Does PAD Cause Hair Loss on the Legs?
Hair follicles require nutrients to stay healthy and produce new hair growth. Those nutrients are carried through the bloodstream. PAD results from narrowed arteries due to plaque buildup, making it difficult for adequate blood and oxygen supply to nourish the muscles, tissue, and other parts of the leg, including the hair follicles.
When hair follicles don’t receive enough nutrition, hair stops growing. If you’re in the early stages of PAD, you may notice patches of hair loss on the legs. These may coincide with other symptoms, such as leg pain or numbness in the legs.
PAD is a progressive disease that can start with mild or no symptoms. Early detection and diagnosis of symptoms like leg pain and hair loss on the legs can help prevent the progression of the disease.
Besides Hair Loss — What Are Other Symptoms of PAD?
One of the most common symptoms of PAD is pain in the legs while doing light activities, like walking around the block. This pain can feel like a cramp or burning sensation in the calves, thighs, or hips. It typically begins after walking or climbing a flight of stairs and goes away after you sit down to rest for a few minutes. The medical term for this pain is claudication.
When a person experiences claudication, their arteries are clogged to the point that blood can’t flow effectively to the legs and feet. This means the muscles aren’t getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to function, causing leg pain. Without treatment, claudication will progress from activity-induced pain to constant pain that bothers you even when lying in bed. Claudication is the second stage of PAD.
As PAD progresses, you might also notice symptoms like wounds that take a long time to heal or don’t heal at all. One leg might become discolored or experience an unusual change in skin temperature. You might develop sores or dead tissue (gangrene) on your feet or legs. If you notice hair loss on your lower legs or any of these PAD symptoms, contact a vascular doctor for medical assistance.
Other Conditions That Cause Leg Hair to Fall Out
Hair loss can occur on your legs just as on your head. Just as with scalp baldness, genetics can play a role in leg hair loss. Alopecia areata is a hair loss disorder that causes the immune system to confuse hair cells with foreign invaders and attack them. Hair loss on the legs is called anterolateral leg alopecia. If baldness (alopecia) runs in the family, you could also suffer from the condition.
Besides PAD, other conditions that can cause leg hair loss include diabetes, thyroid conditions, fungal infections, hormone changes, pituitary gland disorders, and inflammation of the hair follicles (folliculitis).
You can also suffer from hair loss if your body lacks certain nutrients, such as iron, vitamin D, or zinc. Steroid use can lead to loss of hair on the legs and elsewhere. Since the causes of leg hair loss are so numerous, it’s important to consider all your symptoms to get an accurate diagnosis. If you have other signs of PAD, you should seek out further evaluation from a vascular specialist.
How Do I Know if My Hair Loss on Legs Is Caused by PAD?
PAD testing is the only way to determine if your leg hair loss is caused by PAD. At USA Vascular Centers, our vascular specialists can perform several tests to confirm a PAD diagnosis, including ankle-brachial index (ABI) testing, ultrasound, angiography, and blood tests.
An ankle-brachial index test tests blood flow by measuring the blood pressure in your ankle and arm and comparing the two values. Doppler ultrasounds are usually used to help measure a person’s blood flow during an ankle-brachial index test. Your doctor will use the data from the test to determine whether you need further testing to confirm a PAD diagnosis.
Angiography is often the next step. To perform an angiogram, a medical provider injects contrast dye into your vascular system, then uses X-ray imaging to pinpoint any blockage in your arteries.
Although these tests are generally sufficient to diagnose PAD, your doctor may want a blood test as well. Blood tests can’t diagnose PAD on their own, but they can show your doctor whether you have diabetes, high cholesterol, or high triglycerides. Any one of these conditions can increase your risk of developing PAD in the future. A blood test can also help your provider understand what’s causing your leg hair loss if PAD isn’t the answer.
When Should I See a Vascular Specialist?
It’s a good idea to see a vascular specialist if you have any symptoms of PAD, like hair loss on your lower legs. However, it’s also smart to get screened for PAD if you don’t have any symptoms but live with one or more PAD risk factors. For example, if you are 50 or older, have diabetes, or smoke, your PAD risk is elevated. If PAD is caught early, your doctor can suggest lifestyle changes and medications that can help slow the progression of the disease.
Treatment for PAD
USA Vascular Centers offers various minimally invasive treatment options for PAD, including stent placement, atherectomy, and angioplasty. These outpatient procedures do not require a hospital stay. Each procedure involves a tiny catheter inserted into the blocked artery for beginning treatment. With an angioplasty, the catheter uses a special balloon to compress the plaque against your artery walls. During a stent placement, your provider follows an angioplasty with a small mesh tent implantation to keep the artery open. An atherectomy involves clearing plaque away using a special blade or laser. These non-surgical procedures do not require general anesthesia or stitches, and you can recover in your home.
Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Today
If you’ve noticed that the hair on your legs isn’t growing like it used to, our vascular specialists are here to help. We’re committed to answering your questions and improving your quality of life. Our leading vascular specialists can determine if vascular treatment is right for you. Give us a call at 888.773.2193 to schedule a consultation today.
While it’s normal for hair to grow more slowly as you age, hair loss on your shins and lower legs can be a sign of peripheral artery disease (PAD). If you notice bald spots on your legs, it’s a good idea to undergo PAD screening.
It depends on what’s causing your leg hair loss. With PAD, a treatment to open narrowed arteries can help restore blood circulation to your legs. Restored circulation can help encourage your leg hair to regrow, but there’s no guarantee.
Yes, diabetes can cause hair loss on the legs. Diabetes is a major PAD risk factor, meaning that if you have diabetes, your leg hair loss may be due to PAD. Other factors like stress, diabetes medications, and autoimmune disorders can also affect your leg hair. If you notice hair not growing on your legs, contact a trusted provider for help.