Leg hair loss might seem like a strange reason to rush to the doctor. However, it can actually indicate some serious health problems. Before you panic, know it might be caused by something as benign as aging, especially in post-menopausal women or an easily-treated skin condition. More serious health issues related to leg hair loss, however, can lead to organ failure, heart attacks and even death.
Leg hair loss might not seem like much of a problem, but its cause needs to be pinned down. It may be due to a fungal infection, low adrenal function, having too much iron in the body, something as benign as aging or something as serious as peripheral artery disease (PAD) or drop in blood flow due to diabetes. A person who is experiencing leg hair loss should see a doctor to find the cause.
Serious health risks come along with leg hair loss that is a sign of a serious problem with circulation such as PAD or a drop in blood flow due to diabetes. Inadequate circulation is a serious health issue that needs to be treated by a doctor, advises the Mayo Clinic, because it puts people at risk for stroke or heart attack. People also can have open sores that don't heal with PAD, especially if also diabetic. In extreme cases this can lead to gangrene. Having too much iron in the body also is risky, as it can lead to diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, arthritis, hormone issues and other problems, advises Life Extension. Adrenal issues may indicate the autoimmune disease Addison's, advises Merck. Underactive adrenals put out inadequate amounts of all of the adrenal hormones, affecting the body's balance of water, potassium and sodium and the body's ability to react to stress and control blood pressure. Untreated Addison's can lead to low blood pressure, kidney failure and even death.
PAD also can be indicated by coldness in a leg or foot, changes in color to a leg, changes in toenails, leg numbness or cramping in the leg, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hair loss due to a skin condition such as a fungal infection or seborrheic dermatitis won't necessarily be accompanied by a red rash, but there may be light areas of skin or mild scaling in the area of hair loss. Skin scrapings might need to be microscopically evaluated for proper diagnosis, advises Med Help. The onset of Addison's includes such symptoms as weakness, dizziness or tiredness upon standing, patches of dark skin, weight loss or dehydration, appetite loss, intolerance of cold and sometimes muscle aches, according to Merck. Addison's is tough to pin down. Doctors often measure cortisol levels and do blood tests to examine sodium and potassium levels. Iron levels also are measured with a blood test. The first symptoms of having too much iron in the body can include weakness, fatigue, changes in skin color with grayish areas, thirst and abdominal pain. People with too much iron often have an enlarged liver.
PAD will sometimes require surgical treatment, but also may be treated with medications to lower cholesterol or high blood pressure, control blood sugar, prevent clots or with a drug called cilostazol that increases blood flow to limbs. However, people often can manage PAD symptoms through exercise, a healthy diet and by halting smoking, according to the Mayo Clinic. Diabetes likewise may be managed with these lifestyle changes in some cases, or may require medicine to control blood sugar. Addison's disease can be treated with intravenous fluids and corticosteroids. Many people need fludrocortisone tablets each day. Treatment for Addison's must be ongoing for life, according to Merck. Treatment of iron overload involves therapeutic phlebotomy, which means removal of red blood cells via blood transfusion, or chelation in which a person takes a drug like deferoxamine that binds to excess free iron. Skin issues like seborrheic dermatitis are treated topically with substances such as selenium sulfide, pyrithione zinc or with topical corticosteroids, according to American Family Physician.
Regular exercise, eating a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle choices such as not smoking, not drinking excess alcohol or caffeine and controlling stress can help prevent serious conditions that lead to leg hair loss, including PAD and diabetes. Consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in flaxseed oil and fish like salmon and mackerel can do a world of good, advises the Mayo Clinic, because they help reduce inflammation in the body.