Vein-related problems can be an unexpected cause of itchy legs.
Itchy legs can be caused by any number of things, from allergies or insect bites to rashes or dry skin. If it’s focused on your calves or ankles, however, there may be an unexpected reason for that annoying, persistent itch — and it starts with your veins.
“It’s common for itching in the lower legs to be caused by a problem in the veins,” said Dr. Stephen F. Daugherty, a vascular disease specialist and surgeon at the Vanderbilt Vascular Surgery Clarksville.
What causes vein problems in the legs
While our veins are designed to push blood toward the heart, gravity actually works against us by slowing this essential blood flow. This causes pressure in the veins of the lower legs, and, over time, can lead to a number of health concerns, including swelling, itching and skin irritation.
“As the day goes by, the gravitational force pushes blood down into our lower legs, which can cause a repeated daily cycle of swelling.”
“As the day goes by, the gravitational force pushes blood down into our lower legs, which can cause a repeated daily cycle of swelling. It may be subtle, but that swelling and pressure causes little bits of fluid — along with blood cells and protein — to weep through the walls of the microscopic veins and start to injure the skin,” Daugherty said.
This repeated pressure and swelling throughout the day causes the skin to stretch and become irritated. Microscopic cracks in the skin begin to form, which results in irritation and itching in the lower legs and ankles.
When itchy legs can lead to bigger health issues
“People often ignore a little bit of minor swelling in their ankles as the day goes by, but itching gets their attention,” Daugherty said.
Upon close inspection, people experiencing itchy legs may also have a faint pink rash on the lower leg or a blue tint to the toes. There also may be the presence of varicose veins, which are veins that have been stretched and distorted.
“Scratching swollen skin also can lead to infection, including a potentially serious bacterial infection called cellulitis.”
While scratching an itch may only seem like a nuisance, it actually poses other health risks.
Over time, the swelling and other changes to the lower legs continue to injure the skin, and the lymphatic channels that carry fluid from the legs back to the bloodstream in the chest become less efficient.
“Scratching swollen skin also can lead to infection, including a potentially serious bacterial infection called cellulitis,” Daugherty said, adding that anyone experiencing itching, swelling or other unusual symptoms in their legs should be evaluated by a doctor.
“Ignoring these problems only makes them worse,” he said.